|© UNICEF/HQ04-0081/ Nesbitt|
|Pre-school children in a class at the Wilson Corner camp for internally displaced persons, near Monrovia, Liberia. After 15 years of war in Liberia, all schools in the country were closed.|
By Valerie Wang
ACCRA, Ghana, 1 June 2005 – Getting basic services to all African children should be a top priority for national development plans, according to delegates at the 3rd African International Conference on Early Childhood Development.
The conference, held in Accra, Ghana from 30 May to 3 June 2005, seeks to expand the understanding of what early childhood development means. Early childhood development does not mean simply preschool education; it also requires a holistic approach, including improving prenatal services, strengthening family care, and providing services and policies geared to young children.
Participating at the conference are delegates from 39 African countries, as well as high-level representatives of UNICEF, the World Bank, UNESCO and the World Health Organization (WHO).
|© UNICEF/HQ04-0489/ Gubb|
|In a village near Lilongwe, Malawi, Nkalinacho teaches her granddaughter Taona, 1, to wash her hands before and after eating. Hygiene education is important for maintaining health.|
Early childhood development impacts the course of a child’s later development. When well-nurtured and cared for in their earliest years, children are healthier and better able to fully develop their thinking, language, emotional and social skills; they perform better in school; and they have a greater chance of becoming creative and productive members of society.
Effective development requires starting early
While the first two conferences in the series focused on examples of proven interventions for early childhood development, this conference is concentrating on how to translate these examples into concrete action at the country level.
The delegates are discussing the enhancement of services for pregnant women and for children during the first years of life, as well as strategies to reduce poverty and get children in school, to improve health and nutrition, and to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on young children.
|© UNICEF/HQ02-0245/ Geenen|
|A baby is vaccinated against measles at the Karagita Health Centre in Naivasha, Kenya. Immunization is vital for preventative health care.|
Children bear the brunt of Africa’s HIV/AIDS catastrophe, and they suffer the most from the poverty and conflicts that have left tremendous burdens of illness, disability, and exploitation. Under-five mortality rates remain high in Africa and many unprepared students repeat grades or drop out of the educational system. Children in difficult circumstances often do not receive basic care and support.
Effective development for Africa requires starting in early childhood to break these cycles of poverty, disease and violence.