Estimated prevalence of disability and developmental delay among preschool children in rural Malawi: Findings from “Tikule Limodzi,” a cross-sectional survey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Rachel Murphy
  • Emma Jolley
  • Mika Mankhwazi
  • Jenipher Mbukwa
  • Stevens Bechange
  • Melissa Gladstone
  • Elena Schmidt

External organisations

  • University of Liverpool


Background: Early childhood development (ECD) is a critical stage in children's lives,influencing future development and social integration. ECD research among children with disability and developmental delay in low- and middle-income countries is limited but crucial to inform planning and delivery of inclusive services. This study is the first to measure and compare the prevalence of disability and developmental delay among children attending preschool centres in rural Malawi.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted in 48 preschool centres in Thyolo district, Malawi. Data were collected from parents or guardians of 20 children per centre. Disability was ascertained using the Washington Group/UNICEF Child Functioning Module. Child development was measured using the language and social domains of the Malawi Development Assessment Tool.
Results: A total of 960 children were enrolled; 935 (97.4%) children were assessed for disability and 933 (97.2%) for developmental delay; 100 (10.7%) children were identified as having a disability. The prevalence of disability was higher among children 5+ years (n = 60; 29.3%) than children 2–4 years (n = 40; 5.5%); 109 of 933 (11.7%) children were classified as having developmental delay, 41 (4.4%) in “language” and 77 (83%) in “social” domains.
Conclusions: This study found that disability and developmental delays are common among preschool children in Malawi. It is one of the first to measure disability and delay among children in a preschool setting in Africa.


Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalChild: Care, Health & Development
Early online date10 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2020


  • child development, developmental delay, disability, early intervention, Malawi, special education