New Delhi: According to the World Health Organisation, the first 1,000 days in a child’s life, which is the time period from conception through a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday, are known to be a critical window of opportunity to shape development. Experts say that it is the time in a child’s life that determine their health for life but there are multiple factors such as poor nutrition, stressful environments, perinatal mental health, and birthing experience that influence their overall development. Therefore, care and nutrition received during the first 1,000 days can play a critical role in shaping a healthier future for the children and society as a whole. To highlight this, University College London (UCL) and DBT/Wellcome India Alliance (India Alliance) which is an independent public charity that funds research in health in India, in collaboration with Public Arts Health & Us (PAHUS) India, have launched a virtual photo and art exhibition titled ‘The Early Years: A Window of Opportunity’. The exhibition aims to raise awareness about child health in India and globally and about the formative first 1,000 days.
While talking about the exhibition, Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, Project Principal Investigator, The Early Years, Professor of Integrated Child Health at University College London said,
The Early Years exhibition reflects our experiences of working with tribal children in Banswara Rajasthan. We had set out to explore factors influencing child nutrition in India. In Banswara, we experienced first-hand the effect malnutrition and infection as well as multiple other factors like—mothers with no time to play and stimulate their children, poor maternal health, and absence of fathers due to urban migration—can have on the overall development of a baby. I hope this art and science exhibition will move our societies into action to prioritize the early years and safeguard the future.
Professor Lakhanpaul said that the first 1,000 days period is the time when the foundations are laid for a child’s physical and emotional well- being. She added that in this critical duration, children not only require good nutrition but also responsive parenting, nurturing environments, and protection from negative experiences. She said,
One thing we all have in common is our birth, but every interaction, every experience, every exposure before and after this moment shapes our lives. As a society it is our duty to give our children the best start in life. This has never been more important than now as we emerge from the pandemic.
According to experts, breastmilk provides all essential nutrients in the right amount to meet the requirements for the mental and physical growth of a baby. It is highly recommended by doctors that breastfeeding is initiated within the first hour of birth followed by exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months and a baby should be fed breastmilk as many times in a day as it demands.
WHO says that during the first 1,000 days, the brain of a baby develops significantly. Georgina Griffiths, Artist, highlighted connection between good perinatal mental health and the optimum development of a child’s brain in the first 1000 days of life through her art piece. She said that millions of synaptic connections are forged between brain cells from conception to two years old, creating the architecture of the brain.
Experts say, there are several factors like rapid development, high nutritional requirements, greater susceptibility to infections and full dependence on others which make children vulnerable during the first 1,000 days. Nutrition, immunisation and other health related interventions within this period can help in reducing not only malnutrition among children but will also help in preventing child deaths caused by infections like Diarrhoea, pneumonia.
The exhibition highlights that when a mother is working, she is expected to play multiple roles including that of a nurturer as well as a provider.
The exhibition also showcases the challenges faced by families in rural areas in the country. Lack of transportation is one such challenge. Although the government pushes for increasing institutional deliveries, access to hospital and the transport options to reach healthcare facilities are limited.
Importance of father in a child’s life cannot be ignored. According to experts, children who have active, involved and caring fathers experience greater cognitive abilities and enhanced psychological well-being.
Highlighting the role of art in communicating health and raising awareness, Dr Kartik Sharma, Co-Lead, The Early Year, Founder, PAHUS said,
Somewhere my motivation for supporting The Early Years Exhibition is the belief –that if you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family or nation. I envisioned PAHUS to be like a café where artists & academics are digitally and creatively facilitated to exchange knowledge and co-create innovative artwork that empowers people to engage with health. This project aims to connect with the public in public health—in a more personalized and internalized manner—using the arts & films.
Photographer and field researcher Hemant Chaturvedi from UCL shared that while working on the project, he explored factors influencing infant and child feeding practices in the country. He said,
On the ground, in the villages of Banswara Rajasthan, while clicking pictures, I realised that photographs beautifully capture the emotions of the community while expressing the realities and experiences on the ground. Photography is a power tool for engagement. I’m pleased to see my photographs making their way to the Early Years exhibition. I hope these photographs will help to stimulate discussion about the importance of early childhood.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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