Nine creative ways to improve cognitive development of children in developing countries

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, and the "Saving Brains" partners today announced investments in nine creative ways to protect and nurture the cognitive development of children in developing countries.

The investments total up to CDN $4.2 million, shared between projects in Africa (Cameroon, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Uganda), Central and South America (Brazil, Guatemala, Peru) and Asia (Pakistan).

The largest share, $1 million to be matched by partners, will improve the lives of almost 3,000 low birth weight infants in West Africa by the end of 2016 by expanding the use of "Kangaroo Mother Care," a proven technique to reduce mortality and successfully nurture low-weight, prematurely-born babies.

Despite being recommended by the World Health Organization as a cost-effective way to save and improve the lives of low birth weight and pre-term infants, use of Kangaroo Mother Care remains low globally.

Headed by the Colombia-based Kangaroo Foundation, the new initiative is using a culturally sensitive "train-the-trainer" model, supported by e-learning and a data tracking platform, to increase access to Kangaroo Mother Care in Mali and Cameroon. Two existing Kangaroo Mother Care units will become centres of excellence in the technique and will help establish and train 10 new hospital units. It is anticipated that each of these new units could reduce neonatal mortality by about 30%.

Grand Challenges Canada is simultaneously exploring whether a "pay-for success" financial tool, known as a Development Impact Bond, could be used to expand Kangaroo Mother Care to as many as 25 regional hospitals and 30 district hospitals in Cameroon.

Kangaroo Mother Care helps low birth weight infants not only to survive, but also to thrive into adulthood. Research conducted by the Kangaroo Foundation in 2012, with Grand Challenges Canada's support, has compared young adults aged 18-20 who were randomized at birth to receive either Kangaroo Mother Care or traditional incubator care. The results, to be made public later this year, demonstrate the important long-term implications of Kangaroo Mother Care for human capital formation.

Meanwhile, eight new innovations at a seed stage (including two projects led by Canadian institutions: Save the Children Canada and the University of Toronto) will each receive CDN$265,000 to pursue a range of creative approaches to help children reach their full potential.

The innovations, detailed below, include:

  • Using an online crowdfunding platform to raise money to treat severely stunted children in Guatemala
  • A new pre-school curriculum for Pakistan, delivered by youths aged 18 to 24, to improve school readiness and reduce the nation's high student drop-out rate in Grades 1 and 2
  • A program offering quality cognitive stimulation activities, training, and support for caregivers in low-resource areas of Brazil
  • Educational radio programming and community support groups for parents in Rwanda
  • A program for nurses to conduct at-home visits for first-time pregnant youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil

The nine innovations, selected by Grand Challenges Canada, are part of a growing portfolio supported by Saving Brains, a partnership of Grand Challenges Canada, Aga Khan Foundation Canada, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ELMA Foundation, Grand Challenges Ethiopia, Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation, Palix Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation and World Vision Canada.

The Saving Brains program supports new approaches to ensure children thrive by protecting and nurturing early brain development, providing a long-term exit strategy from poverty. Saving Brains has invested a total of $41 million in 107 innovations, including 6 "Transition to Scale" investments, and the Saving Brains technical platform that helps to track and accelerate progress against the challenge. The Saving Brains program has launched its 5th Request for Proposals:

To date, over 20,000 children have accessed Saving Brains innovations designed to improve early child development. Given the early stage of the innovations, the full impact will occur in the coming years as the most promising of these innovations transition to scale.

The announcement was made at the 2016 Women Deliver conference concurrent session "Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: A Dive into the Global Strategy", which provided an overview of the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health, launched in 2015.

"A third of the world's children under 5 fail to reach their full potential," said Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. "Investing in innovation is an essential part of the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. It also helps ensure that every newborn, mother and child not only survives, but thrives. Canada and the Saving Brains partnership are leading the way in creating a pipeline of innovations to help every child reach their full potential."


Terry Collins Assoc


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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