UKZN Invests in Health of Children
The optimal growth of children is a critical investment in the development of society as youngsters represent the future of growing communities.
With this in mind, UKZN’s Research Flagship Programme has invested R2.5 million to kick-start the Optimal Child Growth and Development – Building Thriving Communities through Risk Reduction from impacts of Nutrition, Environment and Social Constructs (OrCHID) programme.
The programme intends to implement a series of interventions, including neurocognitive stimulation, dietary interventions and locally developed nutrition strategies, parental support programmes, as well as the development of smartphone applications that will allow communities to understand their environmental exposure and take appropriate action to reduce exposure.
Research conducted within the OrCHID project will explore household factors that influence nutrition and dietary choices and approaches to parenting, particularly the role of the father. Through focus groups, a recipe book based on locally sourced foods will be developed and a clinical trial of Moringa Olifera, which is rich in antioxidants, will be conducted.
Principal Investigator on the OrCHID project and Associate Professor and Head of Occupational and Environmental Health at UKZN, Professor Rajen Naidoo, said their objective was to ‘better understand the factors which affect optimal child development, particularly in the contexts of household/social support; environment and nutrition.’
Naidoo, who is also a medical doctor and specialist in occupational and environmental medicine and epidemiology, believes these factors influence the development of the child through their effects on respiratory health and neurocognitive development.
According to the Principal Investigator at OrCHID and Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Professor Anil Chuturgoon, avariety of factors commencing in-utero and continuing into early childhood have a direct influence on the physical and intellectual development of children. ‘These factors include, among others, environmental exposures, maternal and child nutritional status and social constructs within the family and household,’ said Chuturgoon.
Naidoo said the approach was innovative as it saw different disciplines working together towards the common goal of improving the health of children. ‘There are many activities throughout the country that focus on the health of young children, both from a health and social perspective,’ he said. ‘The novelty in our research is that we combine multiple scientific fields, including the social sciences, paediatric neurology and pulmonology, neuropsychology, nutrition, genetics and environmental sciences, to better understand the multiple pathways likely to affect child outcomes,’ said Naidoo.
The multidisciplinary team consists of seven co-PIs spanning five Schools, across three Colleges at the University. Led by Naidoo, the team includes Dr Saloshni Naidoo (Public Health Medicine), Professor Anil Chuturgoon (Medical Biochemistry), Professor Prakash Jeena (Paediatric Pulmonology), Dr Lawrence Mubaiwa (Paediatric Neurology), Dr Maud Mthembu (Humanities), Professor Jane Kvalsig (Paediatric Psychology), Mr Nkosana Jafta (Occupational and Environmental Health), Ms Christine Lahner (Dietetics) and Dr Lisa Ramsay (Environmental Science).
* This is one of three research flagship projects to receive financial backing from the programme. The Research Flagship Programme is made up of four flagships, Social Cohesion; African Health; Big Data and Informatics; and African Cities of the Future.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer
Photograph: Supplied by AstraZeneca