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High-risk newborns more susceptible to development delays and disabilities

Posted:  Monday, August 03, 2015

Missing Milestones! Emerging Indian research provides concrete evidence that high risk newborns are more likely to miss their developmental milestones and consequently suffer from disabilities. The study also finds a dearth in facilities needed for early diagnosis of developmental delays in rural areas.

The recent study published in the Journal of Public Health Research was conducted in collaboration with UNICEF in the impoverished, backward region of Purulia district located in West Bengal’s tribal belt.

Field-based tracking and neuro-developmental screening of high risk newborns (very low birth-weight infants, premature infants, infants with severe infections, severe jaundice or any newborn who is extremely ill) were undertaken from January 2010 to June 2012. A total of 427 0–3 year old children were evaluated for signs of developmental delays.

Interestingly, 31.6% of the children showed some form of developmental delay like motor deficits (cerebral palsy), cognitive deficits (mental retardation), hearing and speech defects, visual defects, behavioural defects (autism), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and similar conditions. The findings also revealed that male children were given more importance in terms of providing medical care.

In the light of these findings, Partha De, population studies expert from Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute said, “Once a disability develops in a child, the extent of the problem multiplies in medical, social and economic aspects. If we could determine the major contributing factors to developmental delays and reduce them through early intervention and treatment, the burden of developmental challenges and ultimate child disability could be minimised in India.”

According to the 2011 Census, of the 2.04 million disabled Indian children aged 0–6 years, 1.45 million (71%) are rural residents. The gravity of this situation calls for development of guidelines to provide services for the effective diagnosis, care, understanding the cause, management, treatment and prevention of developmental challenges among children in India.

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