Promoting Early Childhood Development in South-East Asia
Report of the WHO-UNICEF Meeting, Sri Lanka, 13-17 July 2009
Evidence presented in landmark documents such as the Lancet Series on early childhood development (ECD) and the report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health entitled ‘Early Childhood Development: A Powerful Equalizer’ provide compelling rationale for promoting early childhood development. There is also strong and growing evidence that ECD programmes and interventions can provide a “fair start” to all children and help to modify distressing socioeconomic and gender-related inequities. But from conception to five years of age, which is the most critical period for development of human brain, there are relatively few investments by governments in the development of young children, and ECD is currently not systematically incorporated into initiatives. The health sector has the capacity to play a unique role in the field of ECD during this most important window of opportunity.
In order to redress the situation, in July 2009, WHO and UNICEF organized a meeting in Sri Lanka. About 60 participants from 10 countries of the South-East Asia Region of WHO and South Asia region of UNICEF discussed their current country situations, shared strategies and developed action plans for promoting early childhood development through health sector initiatives. The meeting was facilitated by international experts and experts from WHO and UNICEF. The meeting explored what health systems, in collaboration with other relevant social sectors, can do to foster optimal development and protect children from the risk of development activities in their existing programmes. The WHO-UNICEF “Care for Child Development Package” and parenting materials were also introduced, along with a draft regional framework of intersectoral action to promote early childhood development. Work was also initiated on developing country-specific action plans.