Lancet series calls for low-cost interventions to help children and communities thrive

October 14, 2016

child and parent handsIn October, The Lancet published a series: Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale and held a global launch event in Washington D.C. The series builds on two previous Lancet series from 2007 and 2011, emphasizing the importance of nurturing care for children younger than three. Professor Lia Haskin Fernald was a co-author on two of the three papers in the series.

The Early Child Development Series reveals that interventions that promote nurturing care—including 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 health or nutrition services. The World Health Organization, the World Bank, and UNICEF contributed to and offered guidance to the Series.

The papers address concerns, specifically the finding that 250 million children, or 43 percent, under the age of five in low- and middle-income countries are not reaching their developmental potential. The authors cite new data about this demographic, and they call for the improvement of certain quality-of-life areas: health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning.

Fernald says: “Almost half of all children under 5 in low- and middle-income countries are not thriving as they should.  We urgently need to increase funding and coverage of quality early child development programs to help these children.  And we need to make this a global priority, by promoting cognitive, language, and emotional development across the life course.” 

After detailing the risks of underdevelopment caused by deprivation in these areas on children, mothers, and larger society, the authors evaluate parent support programs, such as the WHO/UNICEF’s Care for Child Development and Reach Up and Learn, and find strong evidence of success. “Parents, caregivers, and families need to be supported in providing nurturing care and protection in order for young children to achieve their developmental potential,” the authors write.

They also analyze efforts of individual governments and communities.  Chile, for example, has reached 80 percent of the target population through a program initiated in 2007, ensuring children under the age of four in high-risk living situations have access to health care, stimulation, and early education. The authors attribute this success in part to cooperative political leadership, and they note that global efforts towards similar interventions are increasing. 

Fernald, who directs the Public Health Nutrition program at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, used her sabbatical to collaborate on these papers. Fernald is a member of the Society for Research in Child Development, is on the Steering Committee of the Global Child Development Group since 2010, and is currently serving on the National Academic of Sciences Committee and Institute of Medicine Committee entitled: “Global Health and the Future of the United States.”  She is currently teaching Public Health Aspects of Maternal and Child Nutrition (PH207A), the Capstone Course for Public Health Nutrition and Health and Social Behavior (PH292), and an undergraduate class entitled Nutrition in Developing Countries (PH118).

By Jaron Zanerhaft