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Neurodevelopmental disorders affect one in eight kids

One in every eight Indian kids may have neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) such as autism and cerebral palsy, new estimates suggest.

An assessment of 3,964 children between the ages of two and nine found almost an eighth suffer from at least one NDD (some may have several). Intellectual disabilities and hearing impairment disorders are the most common.

Prevalence is higher in the 6-9 age bracket than in the 2-<6 age group, at 13.6 and 9.2 percent respectively. It also differs between areas, with some reporting an NDD prevalence as high as 18.7 percent.

The findings stand in marked contrast to those of the 2011 census, which posited the prevalence of NDDs at just 1.1 percent among those aged 0-4 and 1.5 percent among those aged 5-9. Concerningly, the new research’s significantly higher estimates still may not be capturing the full scope of NDD cases in India.

“This is a conservative estimate,” the study says. “Actual burden might be higher due to limitations of the study.” Such limitations included that the study sample was unrepresentative of children with a history of stunting and/or low birth weight (LBW). There was also a 15.6 percent refusal rate. As such, one can expect the actual prevalence of NDDs to be much higher than what the study estimates.

“The new research…still may not be capturing the full scope of NDD cases in India”

There is hope for improvement, however. The study identified a number of risk factors which it says “are amenable to public health interventions.” Such risk factors include both LBW and stunting – already the target of the National Nutrition Mission announced earlier this year.

This scheme seeks to reduce both LBW and stunting by at least two percent per annum by 2022. Other risk factors for NDDs identified by the study include premature birth, birth at home and neonatal illness.

The considerable burden of NDDs among India’s children requires not only preventative action, however. It necessitates managerial measures to ensure that the children and families affected receive the appropriate support.

Individual cases of scaling up NDD support have been reported in recent months, such as the establishment of a centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Countrywide, there must be a scaling up of facilities and resources to help NDD sufferers and their families as well as the strengthening of surveillance systems to detect cases, so that the burden can be accurately assessed and the appropriate funds allocated to responding to and managing it.

The study can be accessed here.

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