Geneva: The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the World Bank, in collaboration with the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, the Early Childhood Development Action Network, have today launched a Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development at the 71st World Health Assembly.
Investing in early childhood development (ECD) is one of the best investments a country can make to boost economic growth, promote peaceful and sustainable societies, and eliminate extreme poverty and inequality. To develop to their full potential, children need nurturing care – the conditions that promote health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving and opportunities for early learning.
“The period from pregnancy to age 3 is key for a child’s development. That’s when the brain grows fastest,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “And that’s why young children need a safe, secure and loving environment, with the right nutrition and stimulation from their parents or caregivers.”
The Framework provides an evidence-based roadmap for action and outlines how policies and services can support parents, families, other caregivers and communities in providing nurturing care for young children. It calls for effective national programmes that are driven by strong and sustained political commitment and a determination to reduce inequity, poverty and social injustice, drawing on best practices from across high-, middle- and low-income countries.
“A child’s early environment and experiences have a direct and long-term impact on the way the brain is structured – influencing their present and future cognitive, emotional and social development, and their overall health and wellbeing,” said UNICEF Deputy Programme Director, Vidhya Ganesh. “And when we invest in the earliest years of children’s lives – through health, social and education programmes that help parents provide their young with nurturing care – we all benefit.”
The framework comes at a time when countries are boosting their efforts to meet their Sustainable Development Goals, which includes several targets related to early childhood development.
“We know that developing an individual’s full potential and a country’s human capital is highly dependent on giving children the best possible start through quality early childhood development, including early nutrition and stimulation,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank Group. “Investing in quality ECD interventions also makes economic sense: every $1 invested in it can yield between $6 and $17 in returns.
The cost of inaction is unacceptably high for individuals and societies. Without intervention, adults who experience adversities in early childhood are estimated to earn close to a third less than the average annual income of their peers. And calculations of the cost of inaction show that some countries may spend less on health now than they will lose in the future from the consequences of poor child growth and development.
The launch of the Framework is part of a growing movement and alignment of many partners from across different sectors. Dr Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and Board Chair of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health paid tribute to this collaboration, noting that “Over 1000 individuals from 111 countries have contributed to crafting the framework that recognizes that nurturing care not only promotes physical, emotional, social and cognitive development, it also protects young children from the worst effects of adversity. It produces lifelong and intergenerational benefits for health, productivity and social cohesion”
Following the launch on the margins of the World Health Assembly, countries will take the lead in working towards national milestones to 2023, supported by UNICEF, the World Bank and WHO, alongside partners from all sectors.