Early Child Development, Silent Emergency or Unique Opportunity - 2021 ICHG Winter Meeting

23 November, 2021

Early Child Development: Silent Emergency or Unique Opportunity?

With 1 in 5 children, globally, at risk of not achieving their developmental

potential by their 5th birthday; and the COVID-19 Pandemic setting back

previous progress in early child development (ECD) by more than a decade,

this year's International Child Health Group Winter Meeting sought to answer

the challenging and topical question of whether the global state ECD is a

silent emergency or a unique opportunity, or perhaps both.

The virtually delivered winter meeting was attended by over 200 participants

from 43 countries with in-person hubs in Bratislava, Slovakia and Ibadan,

Nigeria where small groups of regional ECD representatives attended the

meeting together. The meeting featured state-of-the-art lectures on the

epidemiology of ECD; translation neuroscience and the effects of the

COVID-19 Pandemic on family life and ECD from a carefully curated selection

of leading global experts (including UNICEF's ECD deputy, Dr Chemba

Raghavan, and the Head of the WHO's Brain Unit, Dr Tarun Dua) alongside

presentations and workshops by clinicians, NGOs, field workers, parents and

others involved in the everyday reality of early child development.

The key take-away message from the meeting was a cautiously optimistic one:

that while early child development remains a global challenge, especially in

the context of rapidly changing societies, early childhood is indeed an

opportunistic window of brain plasticity during which (1) similarities in

brain growth and development between populations greatly outweigh the

differences between them and (2) where seemingly simple interventions, such

as "Eat Play Love" and "Responsive Parenting" can have incredibly positive

results. The meeting concluded on a positive note, with speakers and

participants agreeing that investment into ECD is imperative to better shape

the societies of the future. The Meeting's Creative Arts Prize was won by

the NGO CESTA VON who work with mothers from disadvantaged Roma communities

in Slovakia to improve the educational outcomes of their children through a

parent-child brain stimulation intervention.

The International Child Health Group are grateful to all speakers, chairs

and workshop facilitators, as well as attendees for contributing to the

success of the day. We are particularly grateful to our organizing

committee and to our Conference Programme Dr Michelle Fernandes, Clinical

Lecturer at the University of Southampton, for sharing her expertise and

vision for the conference.

CHIFA profile: Maryke Nielsen is Wellcome Trust Clinical PhD Fellow based at the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Clinical Research Facility, Blantyre Malawi and Deputy Convenor of the International Child Health Group. www.internationalchildhealthgroup.org Professional interests: Neonatal care, Sepsis, Recognition of acute deterioration, Diagnostics. m.nielsen AT liverpool.ac.uk