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Early moments matter in Bhutan

UNICEF Image: A father hold his son in Bhutan.
© UNICEF Bhutan/2016/Mitra Raj Dhital
Rup Narayan Pradhan carefully holds his son Hari.

By Mitra Raj Dhital

DAMPHU, Bhutan, 15 June 2017 – Rup Narayan Pradhan, 31, holds his 20-month-old son Hari with the utmost care. Unlike most children his age, Hari cannot stand for long and can barely walk a few paces.

“Just days after he was born, he lost consciousness,” says Rup Narayan. “We didn’t know what to do. And because we live far from the road, we didn’t take him to the hospital.”

UNICEF Image: Staff at a hospital in Bhutan with parents and children.
© UNICEF Bhutan/2016/Mitra Raj Dhital
The staff of the Community Health Unit with mothers and infants at the Damphu Hospital, Bhutan.

Diagnosing developmental delays

It was only when Hari was brought to a hospital for routine vaccinations and growth monitoring that he was taken aside by Nurse Yeshey Zangmo who heads the Community Health Unit at Damphu General Hospital.

Hari was diagnosed with developmental delays. He couldn’t speak, stand or walk and weighed well below the standards of his age.

Nurse Yeshey carried Hari to the physiotherapist and sat the parents down for a heart-to-heart.

Today, after almost a year of continuous physiotherapy, Hari can utter a few words and has learnt to stand on his own and even walk a few paces.

“It is a drastic improvement,” says Yeshey. “In most cases, the guardians are unaware of their child’s problems or development. And, so, we have to step up and screen every child thoroughly while educating the parents.”

UNICEF Image: A physiotherapy room at a hospital in Bhutan.
© UNICEF Bhutan/2016/Mitra Raj Dhital
The physiotherapy room at the Damphu General Hospital, Bhutan.

Promoting early stimulation in Bhutan

Yeshey is one of many health personnel from all districts in Bhutan to have undergone workshops and trainings to promote early stimulation conducted by the Ministry of Health with UNICEF funding and support.

“As a result of the stimulation programme, the self-confidence of parents as well as children is boosted and they are well aware of their surroundings and environment,” says Yeshey. “The early years for children are vital in the development of intelligence, personality and social behaviour. And, because of the trainings provided by UNICEF to health staff like us, a lot of developmental problems are detected and reduced as in the case of Hari.”

“Because it is so important for parents and caregivers to stimulate physical interaction and ensure active engagement of the young child, we make the extra effort to educate parents on many fronts, including nutrition and healthy habits,” she adds.

For parents, especially fathers like Rup Narayan, these lessons have been invaluable. “I always felt that it was the woman who brought up a child but after my meetings with Nurse Yeshey, I realize how important a father’s role is, too,” he says. “Today, I spend a lot of time with my son and don’t leave everything to my wife as was the case before.”

Hari’s mother Bimla agrees: “My child is much better now and I am positive he will improve further. I owe it all to the Community Health Unit staff. My knowledge about my child’s development has grown substantially in the past few years and I now understand that my child has to be at the centre of things for him to learn and grow successfully.”

About the programme

The Early Stimulation programme was conceived in Bhutan in 2011, after an analysis was conducted jointly by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF. The Ministry of Health then joined to integrate an early stimulation programme in existing health services. With UNICEF funding, a series of early stimulation material was produced and the programme took off in 2012.

>> Read next: When cleanliness nears godliness in Bhutan



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