Helping Children Achieve Potential in First 1,000 Days

At the media advocacy programme held by UNICEF, in collaboration with National Orientation Agency, experts opined that the ability of a child to be productive in future and​ contribute positively to society depends on how well he is taken care of in his or her first 1,000 days. Funmi Ogundare reports​

The National Orientation Agency, in collaboration with United Nations Children’s Fund ( UNICEF), recently held a​ media advocacy for COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access ( COVAX) and Routine Immunization ( RI)​ uptake in Lagos, designed to, among others, inspire them to shape knowledge of caregivers and advocate for policy​

makers to promote the practice of key behaviours in the first 1,000 days of a child, ensuring a call to action to be involved and contribute immensely to the practice of key​ behaviours to increase the chances of child survival in the state, provide platforms for technical experts to contribute to​ conversations around promoted behaviours.

The two-day programme witnessed papers being presented on ‘Antenatal Care’, ‘Essential Care for every baby’, and ‘Increasing a child’s chance of survival: Focusing on the first 1000 days’, among others.

A Nutritionist with UNICEF, Mrs Ada Nzeogu in an interview with THISDAY, emphasised the importance of taking care of the nourishment needs of the​ adolescent pregnant girl and educating her on the importance of early initiation of breastfeeding. She noted that​ this would go a long way in ensuring the baby’s physical and cognitive development.​

“Basically, there is a lot of evidence on the child’s intelligence quotient.​ Apart from just the physical development and there is also the cognitive development. If these are not done, then the development of that child is compromised;​ and if that child becomes stunted , such person will not be able to achieve his full potential,” she stated. “There is implication for schooling and there is onset of adult chronic diseases which will eventually lead to the nation losing resources to take care of the child.”

She emphasised the importance of studies on​ nutrition​ in schools, so as to build awareness early in the child’s life.

Nzeogu added, “I am aware that the ministry of education has reviewed their curriculum because there is a lot of nutrition input in it. A lot of our children will already know some of these and can apply this to themselves and their peers who may not have the opportunity to be in school.”

She described the first 1,000 days as a golden opportunity​ for a child’s mental and physical development, saying that the brain is being built at that time, and lifelong​ healthy living is laid.

“You realise that by the time the woman realises that she is pregnant, some of the critical organs of the child are formed, so there is a need for the mother to be well nourished before, during and after pregnancy as a child depends on the mother for required nutrient,” Nzeogu explained.

A social and behavioural change specialist with UNICEF, Aderonke Akinola-Akinwole, also emphasised the importance of the first 1,000 days saying that it presents the first window of opportunity to invest in the child’s chance to survive, be healthy, learn and thrive.

“It forms the basis for a child’s intelligence and personality as it is a sensitive period for brain and social development. This period of massive body growth prevents stunting, which can start from the womb,” Akinola-Akinwole stressed. “The ability of a child to be productive in future, thereby contributing positively to society, is formed at this stage as his cognitive ability gets developed.”

She listed some of the efforts that will​ ​ promote healthy foetus development, including; regular antenatal visits to a health facility, alertness on danger signs during pregnancy, sleeping under mosquito nets to prevent malaria, routine immunization, regular hand washing with soap and water, improved hygiene practices, regular growth monitoring, birth registration, among others.

“Every child stands a chance to survive and develop into a healthy and productive adult if given a great start in life. The great start for a child begins from the day the child is conceived in the womb, delivered and cared for in a clean and protected manner. The first 1,000 days is a passport to a healthy and brighter future for every child if promoted behaviour is strictly and intentionally adhered to,” she added.​

Mrs Clara Modupe Omojuyigbe of Lagos State Directorate of Health Education and Health Promotion Services emphasised the importance of antenatal care, family planning and immunisation​.

She stressed the need for pregnant women to register for antenatal as soon as pregnancy is confirmed and attend all appointments, eat an adequate nutritional diet, be acquainted with​ early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life of the baby and communicate freely with the health care team.

“The purpose of antenatal care is to prevent or identify and treat conditions that may​ threaten the health of the fetus/newborn​

and/ or the mother, and to help a woman​ approach pregnancy and birth as positive​ experiences,” she noted.

On immunisation, Omojuyigbe said every child is expected to have completed immunization before the age of one, adding that this should be done six times during the first year.

“Immunisation is not harmful to the child. It is safe to vaccinate a child that is malnourished, has a disability or is sick. Children may have a fever or pain at the site of injection after taking the vaccines. This is normal. Parents or caregivers should take the child’s health card along to the health facility to record the immunisation the child is given, and the date​ for the next immunisation,” she stressed.

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