Vision and Core Value

To be a contemporary faith-based organization devoted to solution-driven scientific engagements for advancing the health and well-being of children with or at risk of avoidable developmental disabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa for optimal early childhood development.

Overview of Developmental Disabilities

What are developmental disabilities?


According to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities & Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behaviour areas. These include but not limited to: Hearing Loss, Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Kernicterus, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual Disability, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. These conditions may begin prior to, at birth, or shortly thereafter and usually last throughout a person’ s lifetime. Children who experience delay in reaching expected developmental milestones as they grow are often distinguished as having developmental delays rather than disabilities, which is permanent. A developmental delay may improve with intervention and can disappear altogether once the child catches-up in his or her development. It is possible for a developmental delay to develop into a developmental disability if left untreated.

How many children have developmental disabilities?


Population-based data on developmental disabilities especially among under 5 years are scarce. Not even in the State of the World’ s Children report published yearly by UNICEF. A widely cited study published in The Lancet in 2007 estimated the number of developmentally disadvantaged children under 5 years in the developing world as 219 million Grantham-McGregor et al (2007). The top ten countries with the largest number of disadvantaged children were: India (65million), Nigeria (16million), China (15million), Bangladesh (10million), Ethiopia (8million), Indonesia (8million), Pakistan (8million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (6million), Uganda (5million), and Tanzania (4million). These ten countries accounted for 145 (66%) of the disadvantaged children in the developing world.” A more recent estimate also published in The Lancet in 2016 puts this number at 250 million. Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest prevalence of children at risk of not reaching developmental potential (70% in 2004 and 66% in 2010).” However, these estimates are grossly misleading because they were restricted to children with stunting and extreme poverty and excluded children with classic developmental disabilities. In effect, a far more greater number of children under 5 years are likely to have one form of developmental disability in developing countries. Most of these children reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Nigeria.

What are causes and risk factors for developmental disabilities?


Prevention is always better than cure. A good understanding of the factors associated with developmental disabilities is essential in curbing the incidence. In Sub-Saharan Africa, these typically will include genetic factors such as sickle cell disease and consanguinity; perinatal factors such as preterm birth, birth asphyxia, rubella, meningitis, HIV/AIDS, cytomegalovirus and neonatal jaundice; nutritional deficiencies such as protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies; exposure to environmental toxins such as ototoxic drugs; and poverty. The dominant causes or risk factors for specific developmental disabilities may vary from country to country and across communities in a single country. Epidemiological studies are therefore, necessary to define priorities for action in each population.

Can developmental disabilities be prevented?


Yes. There are three levels of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary prevention entails actions to effectively control the underlying cause or risk factor for a developmental disability. This level of prevention is the most preferred because of the substantial life-time monetary and non-monetary costs of providing support a child with developmental disability which are well beyond the means of an average household in low- and middle-income countries.However, not all developmental disabilities are completely preventable. For such conditions, secondary prevention through systematic screening programmes to identify the affected infants at the earliest possible time becomes a priority. Children that are detected through developmental screening will require prompt enrolment into an appropriate intervention or rehabilitation programme, which constitutes tertiary prevention. The goal of this level of prevention is to minimise the adverse consequences associated with the disability, as far as practicable. This intervention typically entails life-long coordinated, interdisciplinary medical and non-medical services, and supports.

When is the best time to help children with developmental disabilities?


Children with disabilities face a dire and uncertain future in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) compared to their peers in high-income countries. They require life-time support. However, early detection and intervention services for developmental disabilities before the age of 5 years are critical to the health and future well-being of the affected children. Children with developmental disabilities deserve timely and priority attention in any global, regional or national initiative on early childhood development. The best available evidence from developmental science suggests that the most effective period to help children with sensory disabilities, especially hearing loss, is from the third month to the first year of life, unlike most other childhood disabilities. The work at HSI-Centre is firmly grounded on this incontrovertible evidence, tagged ‘ Early Help, Better Future’ .



  • Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA, eds. From neurons to neighborhoods: the science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academies Press (US), 2000.
  • Thompson RA, Nelson CA. Developmental science and the media: early brain development. Am Psychol 2001;56:5–15.
    Center on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development (In Brief). Retrieved from
  • Grantham-McGregor S, Cheung YB, Cueto S, Glewwe P, Richter L, Strupp B; International Child Development Steering Group. Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries. Lancet. 2007;369(9555):60-70.

Key Activities

Research Projects

Conceptual Framework


Guided by the evidence from findings under the extensive research work of its chief promoter, the Centre is currently engaged in addressing prominent risk factors associated with early childhood disabilities such as severe and poorly treated neonatal jaundice and cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Filtered Sunlight Phototherapy


The Centre through Dr. Olusanya is presently pioneering the use of specially-filtered sunlight as phototherapy treatment for severe neonatal jaundice in collaboration with a team of scientists in the USA. This novel treatment will be widely promoted in rural and urban areas where conventional phototherapy facilities are currently not available or functional as a result of incessant power outage.

Two-Colour Icterometer for Mothers

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Community Engagement

Educational Services


As part of its educational services, the Centre provides technical support to two
rehabilitation centres for hearing-impaired children to facilitate their mainstreaming into regular schools. It also organises on-site and offsite training for service providers for hearing-impaired children including medical students, nurses, ENT residents and special needs teachers.

Academic Engagement

Conferences & Meetings

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Read the latest research articles involving members of our research team.





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