The World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund in a new report stated that good nutrition, health, safety, security and early learning play a critical role in early childhood development and provide children with the opportunity to develop to their full potential.
The report highlighted the need to step up investment in essential areas for interventions in a child’s first years of life – especially in the poorest and most fragile countries.
The United Nations agencies said such an investment provides irreplaceable opportunities to improve lifelong health, nutrition and well-being of children.
The report tracked progress made against the global Nurturing Care Framework, a seminal guidance document for supporting the health, physical, intellectual, and emotional development of young children.
According to the report, the framework promotes an integrated approach to early childhood development, covering nutrition, health, early learning, and responsive caregiving as essential areas for interventions, and safety and security.
The Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at WHO, Dr. Anshu Banerjee, said while the report showed encouraging progress, greater investment is needed in the foundational early years so that children everywhere can have the best possible start for a healthy life ahead.
“Early childhood development provides a critical window to improve health and well-being across life – with impacts that resonate even into the next generation.
“A child’s early experiences have a profound impact on their overall health and development. They affect health, growth, learning, behaviour and – ultimately– adult social relationships, well-being and earnings.
“The period from pregnancy to the age of three is when the brain develops fastest, with over 80 per cent of neural development happening during this time”, Banerjee said.
The report further noted that political commitment to early childhood development had increased since the framework was launched five years ago, adding that close to 50 per cent more countries have developed related policies or plans, while services have expanded.
According to the report, in a recent rapid survey, more than 80 per cent of responding countries reported training frontline workers to support families in providing early learning activities and responsive caregiving.
Reacting to the report, Director of Nutrition and Child Development at UNICEF, Dr. Victor Aguayo, said every child has the right to the best start in life.
He said, “This includes the right to good nutrition and stimulation, responsive care and early learning, health and a safe environment. These rights provide children with the opportunity to grow and develop to their full potential.
As children thrive, entire communities grow, and a sustainable future is possible.
“At the same time, increased investments are needed to scale up services and demonstrate impact, especially amongst vulnerable populations. Ensuring adequate support for children with developmental difficulties and addressing caregiver psychosocial well-being are part of this agenda.”
The Head of Child Health and Development at WHO, Dr. Bernadette Daelmans, also said, “To improve the health of children, we must not only focus on meeting their immediate physical needs, but also ensure they are able to learn effectively, and develop positive, emotionally rewarding relations with people around them.
“This is the role of nurturing care – laying the foundations for healthy brain development with lifelong implications for learning, health and well-being.
“Efforts to create enabling environments for early childhood development require cohesive efforts, with dedicated financing, across a range of different sectors.
Moving forward, the report highlighted the significance of two new measures for improving data on progress – the early childhood development index 2030 and the global scales for early development, which can now be used to assess early childhood development, starting immediately after birth.