For any child, the first 1000 days i.e. from conception to the age of three- is a critical opportunity to the precedence of a child’s development. Science is clear that during this period a child makes its first neural connections with the world. As such, stimulation of the brain from the earliest possible moment is important. Children who are sang to, read to and played with will no doubt have better cognitive development and a better chance at a more fuller and productive life.
Nutrition also plays a significant role in the development of a child’s brain. A child’s brain consumes between 50-75% of all energy absorbed from food and good nutrition. Children who do not receive the nutrition they need suffer the risk of stunted cognitive and physical development. Yet, around the world, at least 150 million children continue to suffer from stunted growth while millions are lacking the daily nutrients to survive.
Violence, abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences have been shown to produce cortisol-a hormone that triggers flight-or fight response to danger. High levels of cortisol thus produce stress which then limits brain connectivity in children. Protection of children from any form of abuse, violence and neglect whether at home or in the community is therefore an important part of the first 1000 days
Environmental pollution can also limit the development of a child’s brain leading to the loss and damage of neural tissue. Globally, it is estimated that around 30 million children live in areas where the air is toxic. Moreover, millions of children under five continue to live in areas of great deprivation.
As a global community, when we deprive children of this once in a life time opportunity, all we are doing is further strengthening of the cycle of inequality and disadvantage to future gens. This in turn results to poor outcomes such as high unemployment rates, low wages, intergenerational poverty, increased reliance on social support ultimately weighing down the social and economic progress of nations.
As governments, stakeholders, international organizations, private sector and civil society, we must work towards investing in programmes that target the first 1000 days of a child that will focus on protection from abuse, proper nutrition, stimulation and learning. Children are the building blocks of our nations, they are tomorrow’s leaders and innovators; and we must provide an environment that will promote their survival and boost their productivity.