Digital Support Systems to Improve Child Health and Development in Low-Income Settings
In many low- and middle-income countries, families living in remote areas often have insufficient access to healthcare and health-related services to adequately support their children’s development in the first years of their life. Digital tools, though, may help to fill this gap. This research will assess the efficacy, and improve the performance of, a mobile phone-based interactive application based on AI, artificial intelligence. The aim is to further develop this digital tool to help parents best support the development of their children in the first 1000 days of life.
Hundreds of millions of children living in low- and middle-income countries are exposed to early life adversities such as poverty, malnutrition and infectious diseases which delay their development. Additionally, growing evidence indicates that the level of nurturing care that a child receives early in life plays an important role in influencing their development. Therefore, interventions that aim to improve the environment in which infants and young children are growing up are now being implemented to help improve their future life and health trajectories.
Currently, the most promising interventions for improving child development in low-income settings are home-visiting programmes in which healthcare staff or social workers help parents to support the healthy development of their children. Though such programmes are challenging to scale up in many countries due to various economic, social and logistical factors. However, the growing universal availability of mobile phones is opening new avenues for overcoming these challenges, enabling healthcare services to reach even the most vulnerable populations through such digital devices.
This research consortium brings together expertise in early childhood development, epidemiology, health economics and AI to enhance a currently available mobile application, Afinidata. The AI platform provides parents with a personal digital assistant for detailed guidance on child health development. In this study, the team will assess the reach, impact and scalability of the platform through a study involving 2,400 families with young children in San Marcos province, Peru. With this study, the research team will not only learn about the potential reach and impact of the app, but will also collect feedback from local communities to further improve the app’s ability to support children’s healthy development. In the future, similar platforms could be scaled broadly to reach families in remote or diverse settings and at a relatively small cost.
Banner image above: A family in the San Marcos region of Peru.
A healthcare worker visits a family in San Marcos, Peru as part of a home-visiting programme to support families with the early development of their children. Image: Daniel Mäusezahl & Stella Hartinger Peña
Healthcare workers play with small children in San Marcos, Peru. Image: Daniel Mäusezahl & Stella Hartinger Peña
A mother and her child do an activity suggested by Afinidata, a digital assistant for personalised suggestions for how caregivers can support the development of their children. The consortium will assess the impact, efficacy and equity of this new mobile phone-based app for early childhood development. Image: Afinidata
Schoolchildren in San Marcos, Peru. The long term goal of the consortium's research is to enhance a mobile application for improving the well-being and life-course of children growing up in low-resource or remote settings where healthcare infrastructure may not be readily accessible. Image: Daniel Mäusezahl & Stella Hartinger Peña
Project Overview: Prof Günther Fink speaks about the research project and its goals.
- The research is part of the BRCCH Multi-Investigator Programme.
- The consortium is led by investigators Prof Günther Fink and Prof Daniel Mäusezahl.
- Additional investigators and collaborators include Prof Ce Zhang, Prof Stella Hartinger-Peña, Prof Dana McCoy and Andreana Castellanos. Consortium members include Leonel Aguilar, Milagros Alvarado Llatance, Jorge Cuartas, Maria Luisa Huaylinos Bustamente, Dr Lena Jäggi, Lucero Ramirez Varela and Jordyn Wallenborn.