UNICEF Supply Division Innovation Unit
Knowing a child’s height is important and indicative of a child’s health and nutritional condition. Identifying the height of a child can help infer whether a child suffers from acute or chronic malnutrition. For example, a child who is stunted (short stature for age and defined as a height that is more than two standard deviations below the World Health Organization Child Growth Standards median) can signify that a child has endured repeated episodes of infection, acute malnutrition, or poor nutrient intakes over a long period of time. This short stature serves as a growth indicator for a child suffering chronic malnutrition.
In 2015, it was globally estimated that 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 had stunted growth. Based on population, height measurements can also be correlated with socio-economic conditions, inappropriate feeding practices, and serve as an indicator of early exposure to illness.
Collecting height measurement data has the transformative power to support government’s health programmes – ensuring that children receive timely and appropriate care. Over the years, however, the lack of tools and access limit the appropriate support of accurate height measurements.
For most of us, height length measurement devices are accessible in our health clinics and are easy to use. In rural areas, however, height measurement devices may not always be available. A global survey programme supported by UNICEF, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) aim to reach and measure infants and children in hard to reach communities through bringing height/length measurement devices when conducting their field surveys.
Yet, recent reviews of household survey data have shown that existing techniques and devices used to measure the height and length of infants, children, and adults do not always produce accurate results. Ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency, portable, accurate and precise height/length measurement devices should be built to support these programs.
To address this, a UNICEF Supply Innovation project officer went on a mission to Nigeria in November 2016 to understand the current challenges MICS surveyors experience during data collection of height measurements. The trip was also aimed to learn more about which features were important to include when building an improved measurement device. In addition, the mission investigated the feasibility of introducing advanced measurement technologies such as laser, optics or ultra-sound. The observations and interviews conducted with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the government agency which implemented MICS in Nigeria, concludes the need for a new and digital device capable of producing high-quality data outputs.
Thus, UNICEF launched an innovation project that aims to address the development of portable, accurate, and child-friendly height and length measurement devices that will contribute to more reliable tools on the field.