A simple, cheap way to promote child development in the developing world

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

This was a simple study from November 2012, but it has a striking conclusion. Small, inexpensive steps can go a long way towards improving child development in the most impoverished nations.

Researchers in Pakistan in 2003 enrolled about 461 children in a study to determine the effects of hand washing and improved water hygiene, confirming then that giving families soap and promoting hand washing greatly reduced diarrheal illnesses in children. In this more-recent study, the same researchers looked at those same kids in 2009, and were able to show that the net effect of the hand washing intervention, several years later, was a strong and measurable improvement in the developmental skills of the children in the hand washing group. These children, compared to peers who were not offered free soap and hand washing instructions, had improved motor, cognitive, and social skills. The magnitude of the improvement was about the same as is seen in the USA when underprivileged children are enrolled in Head Start preschool programs.

Head Start is very expensive, though it’s still a good deal for children from at-risk situations. That third world countries might be able to get a similar magnitude of improvement with something as inexpensive and easy to distribute as soap is truly impressive. These kids could do very well—at a very low price, common sense interventions could dramatically improve their development, potentially leading to more productive and enjoyable adult lives. All it takes is a few good ideas, a few dollars, and the political and social will to help people improve their lives. That’s a bargain at any cost.

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3 Comments on “A simple, cheap way to promote child development in the developing world”

  1. araikwao Says:

    That is fantastic!! My only reservation would be whether the soap will contaminate the water supply in some situations??


  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Ordinary soap will not cause issues in groundwater or other water supplies. No problem there.


  3. araikwao Says:

    That’s good to know. I was thinking about villages that use river water, and whether the downstream villages would be affected. (I know when I’ve travelled, biodegradable soap has been recommended, hence I wondered about this.) love this blog, by the way, thanks!!


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