University College London Researcher Discusses Award-Winning Project Utilizing Childcare Data

Last year, the Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS and ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action awarded $40,000 in grants to eight organizations that could show how the use of social protection supports HIV testing, treatment, and care for children in low- or middle-income countries. Each winner received $5,000 to produce a scientific article, video, or written case study to show what works.

One of the winning proposals was submitted by University College London to study how cash grants combined with quality nutrition affect child cognitive outcomes. The researchers used data collected from 796 HIV-affected children (ages 5-15) attending community-based organizations in South Africa and Malawi. The Coalition spoke to Kathryn Roberts, a global health postgraduate researcher at University College London (UCL), who is part of the team working on the research project undertaken in conjunction with Stellenbosch University, South Africa.



Q: Tell us about your team’s research in Africa.

The study was spearheaded by Prof. Lorraine Sherr at UCL and Prof. Mark Tomlinson of Stellenbosch University. Beginning in 2011, UCL and Stellenbosch undertook the Child Community Care study, collecting data from 1,228 children and their caregivers in South Africa, Malawi, and later Zambia. The participants were affiliated with 34 different community-based organizations (CBOs) in HIV-affected communities (24 in South Africa, four in Malawi, and six in Zambia). The aim of the study was to understand the effect of CBO support on child wellbeing.

The database includes a vast amount of information, including sociodemographic information, health, nutrition, education status and social and psychological measurements. The team has published about 15 papers on findings from this data already.


Q: What’s the subject of UCL’s new study funded by ViiV and the Coalition?

For our most recent project, we wanted to see how receiving a combination of cash grants and nutrition assistance might impact children’s cognitive development and educational outcomes. These outcomes are hugely important, not only for children, but also for the wider socio-economic development of Africa as a continent. We used cross-sectional data collected in 2013 and 2014 from 796 HIV-affected children (ages 5-15) attending community-based organizations in South Africa and Malawi.


Q: Why did UCL want to study this topic in particular?

The existing literature has shown that cash grants have positive impacts on child outcomes, and there is also separate evidence that good nutrition has a positive impact. Logically, you would hope that a combination of the two would have an even better (booster) impact on child outcomes, but it hasn’t been studied yet. Social protection is a priority for children, so it’s important to examine which forms are effective at the local level and contribute (either individually or in combination) to positive outcomes, particularly in the highest-risk children.


Q: What were the findings of the study?

Children of families that received a combination of cash grants and good nutrition did see improved cognitive and educational outcomes, particularly when it came to school attendance and the ability to learn new things. The combination also had a booster effect for some outcomes. One area of concern is that our data showed children living with HIV are significantly less likely to access these interventions – although they are probably the most needy. This highlights why it’s so important that social protection efforts are targeted to the most vulnerable and hardest to reach children.


The full report is available here. The study is ongoing, and the next follow-up will explore transition into adolescence (supported by the UKRI GCRF Hub on Accelerating Achievement for Africa’s Adolescents).