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Childhood matters

Nov 16 2022 / Posted in Child nutrition

- By Dr Harvinder  Palaha, Consultant  Pediatrician, Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai (Former Programme Director, SNEHA)                 

‘We believe in children, young ones, big ones, chubby ones and thin ones. There is faith in their eyes, love in their touch and hope in their attitude. We thrill with them in life’s joys, run in tall grass, bow with them in worship and hold them close in tragedy.

We believe in children, the fragile dreams of yesterday, the radiant reality of today and the vibrant stuff of tomorrow. Yes, we believe in children, for wherever we go to mountains, industrial centres and open country, we find yesterday’s children who were nurtured in things of good, at work building the kingdom of God.’

Indeed, children are the best Gift of God. They are the future of tomorrow and the hope of today. It is the collective responsibility of society and the nation to take care of its children so that they have a healthy and happy childhood and grow up to be responsible citizens.

The health of a nation is known by the health of its people, especially children. It is a sad fact that even in this era of modernisation, educated societies, and improving socio-economic conditions, the health report card of our paediatric population is abysmal. Nearly 66% of our children between the age of 0-59 months are anaemic, almost 15 babies die before their first birthday, one in every three children suffers from diarrhoea, and one in six children has pneumonia.  Nearly one-third of our children are malnourished. The rising incidence of child abuse adds to this concern, whereby one in every three girls and one in every five boys is physically or sexually abused. This is as per National Family Health Survey 5 (2019-2020).

It is mandatory on the part of civil society, including parents, teachers, health workers, non-governmental agencies and government authorities, to address these problems to ensure a healthy and happy childhood for our children.

Some suggested guidelines to improve the health status of children are as follows-

1. Healthy mothers have healthy babies. Regular antenatal checkups, nutrition, immunisation and institutional delivery go a long way to ensure that babies born are healthy.

2. Early breastfeeding initiation should be done within an hour of the child's birth. This can be done in the labour room, whereby once the baby is out and has skin-to-skin contact with the mother, the child takes its first feed. Studies have proven that babies who start breastfeeding early have lesser mortality and morbidity.

3. Exclusive Breastfeeding is essential in the first six months for infants. Breast milk contains all essential nutrients for optimal baby growth and helps in psycho-motor development, besides protecting the baby from many diseases. A child is recommended to be breastfed exclusively for six months to have a healthy start in life.

4. Immunisation against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases by ensuring complete child vaccination as per the Universal Immunisation Programme. These vaccines are freely given in all government health facilities and keep children safe from serious and often fatal diseases like Tuberculosis, Polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, Hepatitis etc.

5. Nutrition is the key to a healthy life. From six months of life, a child must receive complimentary feeds in addition to breastfeeding and gradually start eating a diet containing adequate carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and micronutrients. The dietary habits formed early in life go a long way in shaping a child’s taste for homemade nutritious feeds. All parents must ensure that children have access to a healthy and nutritious diet containing all food groups to keep them free from illnesses.

6. A safe ecosystem significantly impacts a child’s physical and mental health. Many illnesses seen in children are due to a disturbed or unhealthy ecosystem. As caregivers, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that a child feels safe in his/her ecosystem. Any altered behaviour, suspicious marks on the body and unexplained weight loss should be taken seriously and explored to find the cause. Psychosocial factors are well known to result in growth retardation and have an extremely deleterious effect on a child’s future.

There are many government schemes to address these problems viz, Universal Immunisation Programme (UPI), mid-day meals at schools, free education till secondary school for girls, the POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences), Pradhan Mantri Matratva Yojana etc.

Many Non- Government agencies like SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action), STC (Save The Children), UNICEF, Akshay Patra, Bachpan Bachao and many more are diligently working to address various aspects of nutrition, health, gender-based violence as well as working towards identifying child abuse taking remedial action. This is a tough battle, and we, as responsible citizens and adults, must take all measures to promote healthy childhood in every possible way. Let us start by creating awareness and sensitising people towards the importance of a healthy and happy childhood in our homes and our neighbourhood.

Every child is entitled to a happy, healthy and safe childhood. It is our prime responsibility towards our children to provide them with one. HAPPY CHILDREN’S DAY!