Health and nutrition are the fundamental building blocks of children’s lives and their growth into healthy and productive adults.
Sri Lanka can be proud of its achievements in this area. Immunization coverage is now universal, under-five mortality rates are in decline, and access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities has improved nationwide. However, many gaps still exist and much work remains to be done to achieve an environment in which all children can be guaranteed good health and rapid development in line with the standards set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).
The quality and access to health and hygiene services remain uneven. Poorer areas sometimes lack the essential infrastructure and basic knowledge needed to maintain acceptable standards. The triple burden of malnutrition, obesity and anemia are a consistent cause of concern in young children and pregnant mothers. Parents and teachers lack the knowledge of health and nutrition to pass on as critical life skills. Water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH) are unevenly distributed and the quality of these services can vary considerably, in many instances not living up to the benchmarks set by the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). These shortcomings put young children at risk of infection and disease and, as they grow into adolescents, create potential issues of privacy and security, particularly for girls. A concerted effort to raise awareness and sensitivity surrounding sexual and reproductive health is also a priority.
Children with disabilities must be given special attention. Early identification and response services at home and in health institutions are lacking, as are adequate parental support schemes. Knowledge-building and specific services that address the unique needs of these children must be prioritized.
In general, improvements can be made in coordinating and streamlining the efforts of all stakeholders nationwide, so that resources, knowledge and responsibilities can be distributed equally and efficiently.
Finally, it is an overarching ambition to increase the involvement of children, especially adolescents, in high-level forums that will allow them to voice their concerns regarding health, nutrition and WASH and to drive change within their communities and for the nation.