BACKGROUND. Childhood disability affects millions of children around the world, most of whom are in low- and middle-income countries. Despite the large burden on child development, family life, and economics, research in the area of childhood disability is woefully inadequate, especially from low- and middle-income countries.
OBJECTIVE. The objective of this review was to generate information about current knowledge on childhood disability in low- and middle-income countries and identify gaps to guide future research.
METHODS. Electronic databases (PubMed, Embase, PsycInfo) were searched by using specific search terms related to childhood disability in developing countries. The Cochrane Library was also searched to identify any similar reviews. Whole texts of articles that met study criteria were scrutinized for information regarding research method, screening tools, epidemiology, disability-related services, legislation, and prevention and promotion activities. Quantitative and qualitative information was collated, and frequency distributions of research parameters were generated.
RESULTS. Eighty articles were included in the review (41 from low-income countries). Almost 60% of the studies were cross-sectional; case-control, cohort, and randomized, controlled trials accounted for only 15% of the studies. Of the 80 studies, 66 focused on epidemiologic research. Hearing (26%) and intellectual (26%) disabilities were the commonly studied conditions. The Ten Questionnaire was the most commonly used screening tool. Information on specific interventions, service utilization, and legislation was lacking, and study quality generally was inadequate. Data on outcomes of morbidities, including delivery complications and neonatal and early childhood illness, is particularly lacking.
CONCLUSIONS. With this review we identified potential gaps in knowledge, especially in the areas of intervention, service utilization, and legislation. Even epidemiologic research was of inadequate quality, and research was lacking on conditions other than hearing and intellectual disabilities. Future researchers should not only address these gaps in current knowledge but also take steps to translate their research into public health policy changes that would affect the lives of children with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries.