Promoting Holistic Child Development during Africa Union’s 2nd International Conference on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Africa, Nairobi, Kenya October 30th 2018

AfECN in partnership with Kenya’s Ministry of Health and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, under the auspices of the ECED cluster hosted an advocacy event during the African Union’s 2nd International Conference on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (ICMNCH) hosted by the African Union and Kenya Ministry of Health on in Nairobi, Kenya. The theme of the advocacy event was Early Childhood Development (ECD) for Nurturing Care. The event was aimed at raising awareness about the importance of nurturing environments for ECD, the particular role of the health sector and to underscore the need for investment in nurturing care services for optimal child outcomes.

Dr. Teshome Desta, WHO - Medical Officer, Child Adolescent Health, ESA addresses the conference.

Dr. Teshome Desta, WHO - Medical Officer, Child Adolescent Health, ESA addresses the conference.

Despite growing progress since the 1990’s, the continent has had a high burden of maternal and child deaths, as well as teenage pregnancies. The IMNCH conference - themed Maintaining Momentum and focus towards ending preventable maternal newborn and child deaths by 2030 - Sustainable path towards Africa’s transformation - saw 500 delegates, Ministries of Health and first ladies from African countries gathered to forge effort towards promoting safe motherhood. While the conference covered topics from immunizations, HIV, SRH, maternal health and child mortality, AfECN noted the opportunity to highlight linkages between maternal, new born and child health with the WHO/UNICEF Nurturing Care Framework, the importance of the early childhood period and the need for interdisciplinary interventions in order to make a difference in the lives of young children. 

A total of 42 health sector participants representing Kenya’s National and County governments with international participants from East, Southern and West Africa attended the advocacy event. Through the speeches, participants were introduced to the importance of nurturing care and how responsive caregiving plays a key role in supporting the well being of young children. The presentations provided participants with an overview of the science underling the nurturing care framework.

Speakers addressed the following key messages:

  • The loss of developmental potential is highest in Africa, with 66% of children under 5 being developmentally off track. This situation increases the risk of poor educational attainment, low earnings, increased crime and violence and slow economic development all within a context of high poverty levels. 

  • Abundant scientific and economic evidence exists to show that the period from conception to age 3 is critical in laying the foundation for child survival, growth, development, adolescent and adult physical and mental health, educational achievement, adult earning and productivity. Economic research has found that investment in the wellbeing of young children during the early childhood period yields a return of 13.7%. 

H.E. Nazi Kivutha, Makueni County’s First Lady and Chair of the County First Ladies Association speaks at the event as Dr. Stewart Kabaka, Deputy Head, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health Unit, MOH – Kenya listen

  • The Nurturing Care Framework launched at 71st World Health Assembly, guides policy makers, public and private practitioners and families to utilize the latest evidence for a whole- society approach to protecting children from adversity and promoting physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Through nurturing care young children are able to reach their developmental potential and their close relationships with a caring adult protects them from adversity by lowering their stress levels and encouraging emotional and cognitive coping mechanisms. Read more on the Nurturing Care framework 

  • Caregivers play an important role in provision of nurturing care and shaping the developing brain during the early childhood period. Through responsive caregiving practices caregivers are able to stimulate early brain development. 

  • The health sector has a key role in supporting caregivers to provide nurturing environments for young children noting that the most vulnerable populations such as children with special needs, preterm/low-birth weight infants and children in extreme poverty require additional services to ensure their optimal development.

  • Investment in early childhood services is not just a financial gain for countries, it is a human right calling upon government commitment and engagement.

Lilies Njanga, Manager, Childhood / External Engagement and Communications – CIFF addressing the session

There was a lively discussion following speeches with participants eager to engage and learn more on how to integrate nurturing care into their respective areas of work. Specific conclusions and follow up actions included:

  • The need for AfECN to hold more trainings throughout the region on nurturing care specifically how to encourage responsive caregiving practices within existing health and nutrition programmes. 

  • For Kenya County participants, the Chairperson for the Kenya County First Ladies Association committed to champion the rights for children across the Country

  • With a growing understanding about the importance of nurturing care, participants rallied behind the call to enhance investments in services that promote nurturing care with attention to high impact and sustainable programs.