Health

Report urges investment in childhood for future development

Findings underscore the importance of increased global commitment to early childhood development. Consequences of inaction impact not only present, but also future generations, UN agencies said

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 06 October 2016

Research shows that a child’s brain develops faster during the first two to three years of life than at any other time in life. These early years are a critical period of adaptability and responsiveness to interventions
Credit: Kristian Thøgersen/Flickr

An estimated 249 million children under five years (43 per cent) in low-and middle-income countries are at risk of poor development due to extreme poverty and stunting, according to a United Nations-supported series from The Lancet.

“Investing in young children is a moral, economic, and social imperative. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have provided a promising vision on children and adolescents’ health, but political will and increased investment in early childhood development are needed to ensure that the ambitious targets can be reached,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said.

“Early childhood development will not only benefit the children of today, but will have a direct impact on the stability and prosperity of nations in the future.”

Along with WHO, the World Bank and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlighted that the series, “Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale,” reveals that early childhood development interventions that promote nurturing care may cost as little as 50 cents per child per year when combined with existing services such as health.

The findings underscore the importance of increased global commitment to early childhood development. Consequences of inaction impact not only present, but also future generations, the agencies said.

“We now know how high the cost of inaction is, and new evidence makes clear that the time to act is now. We hope the evidence in this series will help countries reach more pregnant women and young children with preventive and promotive services that have the potential to drastically improve developmental outcomes for children as well as their adult health, well-being and economic productivity,” series co-author Linda M Richter, of the Centre of Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, said.

Research shows that a child’s brain develops faster during the first two to three years of life than at any other time in life. These early years are a critical period of adaptability and responsiveness to interventions. When young children are deprived of nutrition, stimulation and protection, the damaging effects can produce long-term detriments for families and communities.

The report stresses the strong position of the health sector in providing an entry point for early childhood interventions. “The science shows us that biology is not destiny—and that what children experience in the earliest days and years of life shapes and defines their futures,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.

The authors propose several ways the global community can scale up support for early childhood development services. Recommendations include encouraging the adoption and implementation of policies to create supportive environments for families to provide nurturing care for young children, building capacity and strengthening coordination to promote early childhood development through existing health, nutrition, education, social and child protection services, strengthening measurement and ensuring accountability for early childhood development services, increasing research and expanding political will and funding through advocacy for the SDGs.

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