Dr. Meenu Singh, a Professor of Pediatrics, in addition to making significant contributions to the field of research in treating tuberculosis in children has received several awards for her work in Pediatric Pulmonology. She is a member of several national and international studies in the field of asthma and allergies in children. Children are the future of this country. It has been proven that the foundation for a healthy life must be laid during the early childhood years. Neglecting the health of a child can lead to issues in adulthood relating not only to the physical but also mental health. Effective measures must be taken in childhood to prevent the birth of underweight children which exposes them to the risks of being malnourished, contracting sepsis, diarrhoea, pneumonia, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and falling prey to obesity. The proper development of a foetus inside the mother’s womb is critical which in turn depends on the health of the mother. Mothers who are malnourished give birth to babies who are commonly referred to as “small-to-date.”
Measures to boost the health of children needs strengthening in the following areas:
As soon as a baby is conceived it is the collective responsibility of a nation to ensure that the baby grows according to internationally accepted norms. To ensure proper development of the foetus in utero, regular antenatal check- ups are critical including periodic ultrasonic examinations. Monitoring the development of a child must continue after birth with the weight and the height of the child at birth being baseline parameters to monitor health. The weight and height of the child and the circumference of the child’s head should be tracked. Health workers must be trained to document the growth of a child to make accurate inferences. Issues relating to insufficient or retarded growth can trigger endocrine disorders (hypothyroidism and growth hormone deficiency), tuberculosis, celiac disease and anaemia.
Adequate nutrition during childhood is the first step toward ensuring better health for children. Infants need to be breastfed for the first six months of their life. Breast milk— ‘colostrum’, is essential for fortifying the immune axis, protecting the child from deadly diseases including several non- communicable diseases such as obesity. Breastfeeding also develops children’s motor and mental capacities. Moreover bonding with the mother is stronger and essential in keeping the negative effects of emotional deprivation at bay. Several Indian communities discard colostrum as they consider it impure. Such myths need to be dispelled by educating mothers and grandmothers. The composition of mother’s milk is such that it more than meets the nutritional requirements of babies as long as mothers are not themselves deficient in iron, calcium and other vitamins.
After six months, the flow of breast milk in mothers usually declines and the process of weaning the baby away from breast milk must be done gradually by introducing nutritious and non-allergenic foods such as khichdi, soft fruit and pulse- based cereals including eggs and fish. Planning parenthood and adequate spacing of pregnancies are also critical for the health of children as babies born in quick succession are deprived of nutrition.
Immunization against deadly diseases is the most successful and cost-effective public health intervention. Following a proper immunization schedule is critical to ensure the health of children and prevent untimely death or disability. Vaccine doses depend on factors such as the nature of the vaccine, immune status of the child and age. Parents must be kept informed of their children’s respective immunization schedules and ensure they bring their children to immunization centres. Parents and health workers should be aware of any contra-indications of children during immunization.
Early learning development:
It is important that newborn babies begin to develop from the moment of birth. Anganwadis must have all facilities for early learning development so that children can learn as they play. If a child lacks in some developmental skills such as motor, cognition and intellectual capabilities, it could lead to developmental disability. If a delay is in one domain, it is a ‘developmental delay’. If disabilities occur in two or more developmental domains, it is termed ‘global developmental delay’. Some of the common developmental disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome. Approximately 5 percent of children worldwide under 14 years of age have moderate to severe disability according to the World Health Organization. Early diagnosis of some of these disorders can save families from experiencing severe stress later in life. Such developmental abnormalities affect not only the children and their families but also have an impact on the cost of health care and on the support provided for education and other services.
Prevention of trauma and child abuse:
In the past decade there has been a rise in the number of cases involving child-abuse. Child-abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and even neglect resulting in the increase in morbidity and mortality rates which further the economic loss and social suffering. Child welfare agencies such as Childline provide 24- hour service to safeguard children who are victims of abuse. However, much more needs to be done in this direction.
The early years of a child are the foundation years critical for children’s health. There is a need to develop institutions and systems to ensure the well-being of children. Building Nand Ghars is one such endeavour which will go a long way in ensuring children from deprived backgrounds remain healthy.