Investing in early childhood development essential to helping more children and communities thrive, new Lancet Series finds | Source: UNICEF, Oct 4 2016.
249 million children under five are at risk of not reaching developmental potential, implementing low-cost interventions could reverse this trend
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 4, 2016 – An estimated 43 per cent—249 million—of children under five in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) are at an elevated risk of poor development due to extreme poverty and stunting, according to findings from The Lancet’s new Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale.
The Series reveals that early childhood development interventions that promote nurturing care—health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and early learning—may cost as little as 50 cents per child per year, when combined with existing services such as health. The World Health Organization, the World Bank, and UNICEF contributed to and offered guidance to the Series.
The findings in this Series underscore the importance of increased global commitment to early childhood development. Individuals are estimated to suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year, while countries may forfeit up to as much as two times their current GDP expenditures on health or education. Consequences of inaction impact not only present but future generations.
“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, wellbeing, and economic productivity,” said Series co-author, Professor Linda M. Richter, PhD, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Research shows that a child’s brain develops faster in the first 2-3 years than at any other time in life. These early years are also 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 science and economics are clearly on the side of investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, starting with a woman’s pregnancy,” said Keith Hansen, Vice President, Human Development at the World Bank Group. “If we don’t do this, children fall behind long before they set foot in school and suffer a lifetime of disadvantage. But if we do, we can make an irrevocable difference to their ability to fully participate in the economies of tomorrow as active, productive citizens. The Lancet research is further proof, if more is needed, of just how important this agenda is.”
The authors stress the strong position of the health sector in providing an entry point for early childhood interventions—especially in support of nurturing care. The sector’s ability to access women and children during the critical period from conception through early childhood presents an opportunity to integrate low-cost interventions, such as WHO / UNICEF’s Care for Child Development, and Reach Up and Learn, into existing maternal and child health and nutrition services. These have shown to help improve the quality of nurturing care and the overall development of young children, while also giving attention to the wellbeing of the caregiver.
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