07 December 2016

International event in Chile discusses investments in early years

Why should we invest in early years? This was the main theme discussed at the international seminar “Public Investments in Early Years: The challenge of investing with quality for the development of girls and boys”, organized by UNICEF, the Pan-American Health Organization and the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development of Chile, on 7 December.

The goal of the event was to present new evidence on the effectiveness of interventions to promote early childhood development and analyze challenges in the area of strategic investments in early years.

President Michelle Bachelet provided opening remarks, highlighting the importance of early childhood development to build more prosperous societies. “Early childhood development interventions, as recommended by the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, can address very concrete challenges in our region and in the world. Strategic investments in early years should be a top priority, so that we can build a healthier and more prosperous future for all.”

Hear President Bachelet’s speech [Spanish]

The event marked the regional launch of The Lancet Series on Early Childhood Development, which comes at a particularly relevant moment for the international health community following the inclusion of ECD as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Series considers new scientific evidence for interventions, building on the findings and recommendations of previous Lancet Series on child development (2007, 2011), and proposes pathways for implementation of early childhood development at scale. The Series emphasises “nurturing care”, especially of children below three years of age, and multi-sectoral interventions starting with health which can have wide reach to families and young children through health and nutrition.

A new UNICEF study “Investments in Early Childhood Development: Diagnostic, Challenges and Solutions” was also launched during the event. The report analyses programmes and budget allocation for ECD in Chile, pointing out the most cost-effective interventions in the country. Panelists at the launch included the economist Florencia López, BID; Rafael López-Escamilla, Epidemiology and Public Health Professor, Yale.

Other participants included renowned international ECD experts, including Jere Behrman, Pennsylvania State University, Stephen Lye, Toronto University, Néstor López, UNESCO, and Ítalo López, RAND Corporation.

Early Childhood

A staggering 43 per cent of children under five years of age—an estimated 250 million—living in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of suboptimal development due to poverty and stunting. The burden is currently underestimated because risks to health and wellbeing go beyond these two factors.

A poor start in life can lead to poor health, nutrition, and inadequate learning, resulting in low adult earnings as well as social tensions. Negative consequences impact not only present but also future generations. Because of this poor start, affected individuals are estimated to suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year while countries may forfeit up to twice their current GDP expenditures on health and education.

Scientific evidence indicates that early childhood is not only a period of special sensitivity to risk factors, but also a critical time when the benefits of early interventions are amplified and the negative effects of risk can be reduced.