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UWI early childhood intervention programme gains global attention - researchers want national roll out

Published:Tuesday | May 24, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndre Poyser

A research team at the Epidemiology Research Unit (ERU) of the University of the West Indies is pleading with the Government to strongly consider a national rollout of a home-based early stimulation programme which was developed by the team and is now being replicated all over the world.

"Do you know that this programme is not being done in Jamaica as we speak, but it is being done in other parts of the world? I mean Bangladesh, Colombia, Peru, India, Brazil, and I went to China and they asked me if they could send some of their people to Jamaica to see how it is being done and I had to say to them sorry, we are not doing it anymore," ERU researcher Dr Susan Chang-Lopez told The Gleaner.


Developed in the '80s


The programme, which was developed as part of an ERU research project in the 1980s, involved a randomised intervention that gave psychosocial stimulation to stunted Jamaican toddlers living in poverty. The intervention consisted of one-hour weekly visits from community-health aides over a two-year period who taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers to interact and play with their children in ways that would develop their children's cognitive and personality skills.

So successful was the stimulation intervention that when the research team followed up with the children at various ages, they showed remarkable improvements in all the developmental factors that were tested, as opposed to those stunted children who did not receive stimulation.

The most recent follow-up investigated the average earnings of the children and found that 20 years after the intervention, stimulation increased the average earnings of participants by 42 per cent. These findings were chronicled in a paper which was published in Science and highlighted by The New York Times and Danish think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

The programme has now been developed into a web-based training tool called REACHUP, which is being used in several countries. The ERU team has also been travelling to other countries to train parents in the use of the stimulation methods.

Here in Jamaica, however, the enormous evidence presented on the effectiveness of the programme, which has been shared with the Ministry of Health and the Early Childhood Commission, does not appear to have convinced policymakers.

"We had hoped that by now we would really have a vibrant universal programme in Jamaica. It has been a long time that we have been trying to get this on board and we will still keep trying," Dr Christine Powell, another member of the ERU research team, said.