By T’soloane Mohlomi

MASERU – Lesotho now stands a better chance, and is in a much better position to deter the dire effects of disabilities on its citizenry.

This observation comes after the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LANFOD) together with partners Spoon and John Hopkins International Injury Research Unit, which resides under the John Hopkins Bloomberg school of Public Health introduced Count Me In, a novel ground breaking digital application monitoring and observing signs of disabilities during different growth periods in a young child.

Developed for the Government of Lesotho’s Early Identification and Nutrition Project which is funded by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the application was implemented during a 3 month pilot period in five health care centres and five pre-schools in the Mokhotlong and Maseru districts.

 The digital application in the screening of 470 children for malnutrition and developmental delays, found that one in three children was stunted, and one in four children was likely and at risk of developmental delays.

Speaking at a recent publication of results event in Maseru, LANFOD’s Executive Director Adv. Nkhasi Sefuthi, said in the government’s efforts to mitigate and reduce the daunting effects of disabilities in the country, which can and are among other things caused by poor nutrition in children which results in developmental delays, the aim of the project was over and above to indentify as early as possible, disabilities that may exist in growing children.

“With this project we aim to identify disabilities in children from as early as zero to six years old because here in Lesotho individuals are usually discovered when they are much older that they live with a disability. This is a challenge because sometimes it’s either too late for them to go to the right school’s which are suitable for them or they are hindered in accessing the essential needs, he said.

“So this project is very important because we and relevant authorities will be able to know from a very early age when a child is born, that the child has a certain disability, or the child will have a growth deficiency, so that they’re afforded all the essentials they may need so as to help and assist them going forward and the problem corrected if possible as there will already be systems in place to detect that.

“The projects utilizes two methods, which are working in collaboration with health care clinics and preschools, more so cognizant of the fact that children from zero to one year are still routinely checked into clinics for observations, and three to five year olds are already in preschools.

“So with this digital application all that health practitioners do is enter the child’s related data, and with that the application is able to tell the child’s health status, the application will show usual predicted indications of developments of a child in “comparison to many factors for example using things like their weight or height so as to give information of whether they’ve developed stunting or are developing a disability”.

The Count Me In application works by guiding users through a series of questions, then provides recommendations. Staff can use these recommendations to counsel families, and refer them for further evaluation if needed. It mainly guides them through three types of assessments for children which are, Developmental Screening, Growth Assessment, and Meal time Best Practices Assessments.

Once screenings are completed, Count Me In generates care plans that include the results and their interpretation, recommendations, referrals, and follow up visit dates. Count Me in has proved and is reliable in providing up to date reports on baseline, progress, and trends in malnutrition and developmental indicators.

“Identifying delays in development and malnutrition as early as possible means children and their families can be provided with support sooner, which gives them the best chance to grow and learn. This project gives professionals and families knowledge and tools to make an impact when children are at their most critical periods of growth and development, said Dr Zeina Makhoul, SPOON’ Nutrition Scientist.