07 May 2013
Putting proven helpful information into the hands of caregivers for children with cerebral palsy, autism and other neuro-developmental disabilities is the goal of a Goa-based project that was awarded a Canadian $100,000 seed grant last month.
Dr Vivek Vajaratkar of NGO Sangath in Goa was awarded an international Stars in Global Health grant by Grand Challenges Canada for the innovative idea 'Inform', a mobile health (or m-health) platform for improving functional outcomes for children with impairments through community health workers in India.
Funded by the Canadian government, the $100,000 grant is part of an international competitive award that will commence on June 1 under the mentorship of developmental pediatrician Dr Gauri Divan. It is co-funded by Hong Kong-based Innovgreen Disable Foundation Limited, a private foundation aiming to improve the quality of life of children with impairments and their families in partnership with the UK-based charity Multi-Agency International Training and Support (MAITS).
Speaking to Newsline, Dr Vajaratkar, an occupational therapist who has specialised in neuroscience and has been working with Sangath for the last four years on projects addressing the needs of children with neuro-developmental disabilities, said that they did not get evidence-based services.
He said the main outcome of the 'Inform' project is to disseminate evidence-based practices for children with neuro-developmental disabilities through m-health technology. "M-health technology is a rapidly growing tool in low- and middle-income countries, and our project will empower non-specialist community health workers to deliver best practices to children with neuro-developmental disabilities at a relatively low cost and with assured quality which will be maintained by supervision," he added.
As a broader implication, he is looking at 'Inform' as an innovative method to scale up evidence-based care for children with neuro-developmental disabilities through the empowerment of families by trained community health workers.
Dr Vajaratkar's grant was announced in round 4, phase 1, of the Grand Challenges Canada Stars in Global Health awards, which supports "bold ideas" from low- and middle-income countries that integrate science/technology, social and business innovation.
Projects that prove successful can apply for up to $1 million in scale-up funding. Grand Challenges Canada CEO Peter Singer said, "By matching talent with opportunity, Grand Challenges Canada is contributing to saving and improving lives."
Dr Vikram Patel, one of the founders of Sangath, said what started as a multi-disciplinary child development clinic 16 years ago now has projects across the country. With Sangath being a nodal agency for the national trust for the welfare of persons with autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities, its previous work in the field of autism research brought to light the tremendous difficulties families have in accessing services for autism as well as other neuro-developmental disabilities.
The latest award will further Sangath's vision of 'task-shifting' specialist services to trained community workers for neuro-developmental disabilities to address the severe shortage of specialists in the region, added Patel.