Importance of Health and Hygiene in Early Childhood Development

(Mehr Parwar, Gilgit)

Gilgit Baltistan is one of the richest areas in terms of production of delicious fruits, vegetables and crops. Around 80% is devoted to cultivation of food grains and other arable crops such as wheat, maize, millet, vegetables, pluses, beans, potatoes etc. whereas the remaining 20% is under fruits. The area is rich in producing fruits such as almond, grapes, apple, apricot, mulberry, cherry, walnut and many other in huge quantity.

Unfortunately, being ignorant and unaware of importance of healthy eatables, the local people vend their healthy foods and fruits and in return get money or buy unnatural and castoff products for their families and resultantly, expose themselves to uncurable diseases.

Various reports and observations suggest the deficiency of proper diet generally create challenges for maintaining good health. For instance, during pregnancy most of the women do not intake sufficient healthy food. This results in in prenatal and postnatal health problems amongst mothers and children. In such cases, children are born with low weight directly attributed to malnutrition of mothers during pregnancy. This adversely impacts the personality of a child in respect of slow physical and mental growth. According to a survey reported by Government shows about 43% stunted children in Northern areas of Pakistan. These children are at great risk of vulnerability and developmental delays.

Lack of nutrition distresses cognitive development and learning in young children. Malnourished children face difficulty in reading, writing and logical reasoning and mathematics and resultantly leave behind in school and college. Studies also show that there is a window of opportunity in that specific time period where appropriate stimulation including proper nutrition, care is needed for the brain development for synapses to link easily and efficiently. After these key periods, learning will continue to occur in remaining life of a person. However, the skill mastery level and learning may not be as high.

Annual Statistics of Education Report (ASER) 2018, indicate that access to Early Childhood Education in GB is only 40% whereas another report shows only 14% attendance in early childhood education. Likewise, the indicators of child health inform that 45% children got full immunization coverage but rest of the 55% did not get coverage. The factors behind the problem is lack of awareness and education on health and nutrition among all stakeholders like policy makers, education service providers, community representatives, leaders, parents and caregivers. Adequate nutrition is indispensable to ensure a strong immune system and proper physical and intellectual development in early childhood.

Hashoo Foundation Pakistan is working in social sector since 2004 to provide education and awareness in marginalized communities on Early Child Development. Along with other thematic areas of Early Childhood Development these trainings include Health and Nutrition sessions in which the participants are provided knowledge and information on mother and child’s health care and hygiene. For instance, awareness on use of healthy food and its benefits for early age children and pregnant mothers as well as sensitization on use of healthy food items. These sessions are conducted by health and nutrition experts who are hired to fulfill the requirement of health education and Early Childhood Development.

Still there are many unreached areas where proper guidance and strong awareness on importance of local healthy food and proper nutrition is crucial. This can be done with collaboration of public and private stakeholders especially Education and health department. These departments must step forward to educate people through implementing Early Childhood Development programs, health awareness programs and child and mother health screening programs.

Thus, rigorous work is required to eliminate health issues and factors affecting growth and development. Sensitization and education are vital for identifying finding causes of communicable diseases, importance of healthy food, nutrition related diseases and prevention as well as importance of healthy checkups and so on.

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