Dubai Cares, the global philanthropic organization based in United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UNICEF, in coordination with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC), came together today in Dubai at a two-day event to urge greater investment in early childhood development (ECD).
The event kicked-off with the official Middle East and North Africa launch of the Lancet Series Advancing Early Childhood Development: From Science to Scale, one of the world’s most renowned medical journals, which revealed that an estimated 43 percent of children under-five in low-and middle-income countries are at risk of poor development and emphasized the importance of nurturing care — nutrition, stimulation and protection — for all children in the earliest years.
The earliest years of life, especially the first 1,000 days, provide a unique opportunity to shape a child’s brain development. Providing infants and young children with nurturing care during this critical window of opportunity fosters healthy cognitive, physical and emotional development. But a lack of nurturing care during the same period – including prolonged exposure to adversity or violence – can inhibit optimal brain development in babies and young children, with lasting consequences for individual children, for their futures, and for their societies.
“It is important to consider Early Childhood Development as an investment, as there is substantial evidence indicating the significant returns that can be yielded from structured and quality early childhood development services and programs. Providing appropriate cognitive stimulation, nutrition, care and health services during this critical development period results in increased primary school enrolment, enhanced school performance, reducing repetition and drop-out rates, reduction in juvenile crime rates, decreasing remedial education costs and improving economic and social productivity in adulthood. These benefits produce significant social, education and economic returns to society far outweighing the returns on other forms of human capital investment. Giving every child, no matter where they live, the best start in life is the best way to ensure healthy and prosperous individuals, communities and countries,” said Dubai Cares Chief Executive Officer, His Excellency Tariq Al Gurg.
The Lancet Series also reported that early childhood development interventions promoting nurturing care are among the most cost effective ways to help children reach their full potential, costing on average 0.50 USD per child per year when delivered together with existing health services. Effective interventions can include home visits from health workers to teach parents about the importance of playing and reading to their young children, or supporting new mothers with information about the benefits of breastfeeding. Studies have shown that children who participate in such programmes can go on to earn up to 25 per cent more as adults than their peers who do not.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE participation at this important event aligns with the fundamental purpose of UAE foreign assistance, which is to reduce poverty and help countries and communities in need. The UAE’s agenda for international cooperation, directed by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, will continue to support the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4 on ‘Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation applauds Dubai Cares and UNICEF for their work in advancing early childhood development.
During the two-day event, Dubai Cares and UNICEF will also hold discussions on the urgent importance of investing in early childhood development interventions for children living through humanitarian crises. Studies show that exposure to prolonged violence in the earliest years of life can inhibit brain development – but that nurturing care can help offset these effects, supporting children’s emotional wellbeing and helping keep them on track developmentally.
“The science behind ECD is well-established, and continues to advance — but we have a long way to go before the scientific understanding of how important nurturing care is to children’s developing brains and to their societies is matched by action,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Everyone has a role to play, because early childhood development affects everyone. Families, communities, businesses, national economies — all depend on fostering a generation of children who can reach their potential. UNICEF looks forward to our work with Dubai Cares and the Government of United Arab Emirates to reach all children with quality ECD programmes.”
The event also aims to help inspire the design, piloting and implementation of early childhood development interventions through a new global partnership, the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN).
The link between early childhood development and sustainable development is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, which include new targets to support ECD – the first time ECD is explicitly included in a global development framework.
This year, UNICEF launched #EarlyMomentsMatter, a new campaign aimed at driving an increased understanding of how a child’s environment and experiences in early childhood can shape brain development for life.
Dubai Cares has launched ECD programs in countries like Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Comoros Islands, Laos, Malawi, Mexico, Palestine, Rwanda, Vanuatu, Tanzania and Zanzibar worth AED 87 Million (USD 23.7M).