How to Improve Health and Well-Being in Early Childhood?

According to the United Nations, over 200 million children worldwide fail to reach their developmental potential in their early years. Some of the reasons behind this include malnutrition and lack of psycho-social care. TRECC (Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities) is committed to ensuring that Ivorian children have a good beginning in life. Text: Haleinta Traoré

As an Education and Early Childhood Development specialist for TRECC, I went on a study trip with an Ivorian government delegation to better understand how to integrate child development components into country-wide health interventions.

One of the aims of TRECC – the Jacobs Foundation’s program in Ivory Coast- is to enable the adoption of policies that will contribute to improving early childhood development. As part of this process, we expose policymakers to solutions that have been applied in contexts similar to that of Ivory Coast. In that sense, we set up a study trip with several Ivorian government officials and other partners to Mozambique, where international organization PATH has extensive experience in integrating child development components into health services. This allowed the government (represented in this trip by two National Nutrition Council officials and one National Nutrition Program official) to learn from Mozambique’s experience and to be able to reflect on how to best apply these practices within their own local context.

Play and communication to stimulate learning

PATH’s intervention is mostly guided by WHO and UNICEF’s Care for Child Development package, a toolkit enabling health and community advisors to build stronger child-caregiver relationships and facilitating problem-solving at home. The package encourages play and communication to stimulate learning and promotes parental support and better communication. This contributes to a more successful child development and overall child health. Caregivers are usually trained and coached by health workers or community advisors in health facilities, during home visits or through group trainings. The program is aimed at families with children in their first 1,000 days of life.

It was very encouraging to see that PATH’s initiatives have been very successful in Mozambique. Pending a formal impact evaluation, it is apparent that this initiative, which started in 2014, has contributed to:

  • An increase in the number of people visiting health centers
  • A stronger presence of early childhood development programs into country-wide annual health plans
  • A firendlier atmosphere for infants in pediatrics; and
  • Easier access to useful tools for training and monitoring early childhood initiatives.

Ivorian government representatives impressed by results

PATH is currently working in the Maputo region, but since the Mozambique government has already been implementing child development components into their policies, people are learning to be better parents in regions beyond Maputo. During a home visit we attended, we talked to the mother being coached and a family member who was visiting from a different region. The family member proudly talked about her knowledge of the play and stimulation techniques she had been exposed to in her local health center.

While the implementation of early childhood development practices into health policy requires a strong commitment, the Ivorian government representatives were very impressed with the effects they observed. In view of the positive feedback obtained, TRECC will continue to support the integration of parenting programs into government policy.

This activity was part of the Jacobs Foundation, The Bernard van Leer Foundation and UBS Optimus Foundation’s commitment to improve quality of education for children in Ivory Coast through TRECC. Aside from TRECC’s other activities in early childhood development, 5 million dollars will be devoted from 2018 to 2022 in partnership with The Power of Nutrition for the implementation of the government’s early childhood development and nutrition plan.

 

Haleinta Traoré
TRECC
Education and Early Childhood Development Specialist
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