UNICEF works with partners to give every child the right start to life
One child in every five in Ghana experiences stunted growth during the first thousand days of life caused by inadequate nourishment, frequent illness and an unhealthy environment. These affect the physical, social and cognitive development in children. Their brain development is negatively impacted which further affects learning at an early age, school performance and ultimately their socio-economic development.
Ghana has been implementing programmes focused on improving the health and nutrition of its children. However, the inconsistent access to and health facilities and services presents a challenge.
Nurturing care is defined as the overall health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive care-giving and learning at an early age for every child
Despite progress made since 2000 in early childhood development research, programmes and national policies developed by the departments of health, education and children’s affairs, services are not coordinated leaving a huge gap in the survival and ultimate development of children in Ghana.
Nurturing Care is provided by parents and family interactions and an environment that is encourages these interactions. However, the health sector guidelines and standards fail to emphasize or completely overlook the importance of early childhood development practices, namely early stimulation, safety and security, responsive care and early learning.
In addition, many health workers do not possess the technical skill to identify disabilities at a young age.
With support from UNICEF Ghana, the Ghana Health Service Directorate has launched a ‘Healthy at Two’ initiative in the Volta Region, which involves community health nurses providing support to mothers from the time they register their pregnancy until after child birth, initiating breastfeeding within the first hour, providing newborn care, vaccination and post-natal check-up, and monitoring the growth of the child.
Others include counselling on infant and young child feeding and promoting hygiene practices.
Growth in height and attainment of developmental milestones will be monitored on a regular basis. To facilitate this, the Ghana Health Service has developed a Mother and Child record book, which is expected to encourage the use of services and interest of family members to support caregivers across the country.
Ghana will need to build its capacity to scale up the implementation of the ‘Healthy at Two’ initiative across its 10 regions and districts, especially in the most deprived districts.