The First Five

“Aunty!! Aunty!! How are you?” six children on the hospital compound shriek after me. I have just finished chai and daily reflective evaluation with my students in the sun outside the bungalow. Heading from the bungalow to Pauline’s home on the other side of the compound, young children and their younger siblings are playing and can easily recognize me. These kids are probably between the ages of 3 to 6 years old.

I wave back “Mein theek hun. Aap kaise hai?” This reply produces roars of laughter among the kids. It doesn’t help that usually by the end of a long day of running around my sari loosens and tightens in the wrong spots.  I struggle to kick my foot forward, freeing my ankles where the sari has tightened. Another round of laughter ripples through the group. I join in.

Gladly I welcome these laughs and the laughter of the children during the under-5 year health clinic from earlier today. In Bilkheri village, this morning my students conducted maternal and child health activities. Everything from home antenatal check-ups in one-room houses with low ceilings and no windows, to family planning education occurred within three hours.

The under-5 years health clinic makes me ache the most to be able to fluently speak Hindi. Well, actually, I would need to be able to speak Bhili here.  Much can be done without words, sometimes it is much more fun that way, but I must remind myself I am the teacher, the students are to be taking the lead. Marine lines the children up in 5 straight lines. As soon as she is done and standing in front of the now wobbly lines, she begins playing a kind of counting jumping-jack game with the kids.

Tip number one while providing health education to young children: make it a fun game.

Kiranbala quietly takes one child from the game to get weighed and passes her off to Dipti who is measuring height, arm and chest circumference. Then the child is returned to the activities by Margdarshi. Marine does a wonderful job keeping the children busy before hand washing education at the Angawadi Centre.

Tip number two: Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. Don’t forget to reinforce proper hand washing techniques for youngsters.

Infants and children passing through the first five years of their lives are extremely vulnerable to stunting, disease and death; particularly in developing countries. The WHO states “early childhood is the most important phase for overall development throughout the lifespan”. An infant’s environment during these early years highly influences their biological and brain development, and their future health, economic and educational status. The WHO estimates “every year, more than 200 million children under five years old fail to reach their full cognitive and social potential.” Simple and effective methods, such as those the MIBE students are doing during their practicum, can ensure optimal development of children.

UNICEF states:

“Almost 11 million children, more than 29,000 a day, die before the age of five, mostly from preventable causes. Those that survive suffer other consequences: malnutrition leading to stunting and disability, a lack of access to health care and education, and an increased risk of suffering from exploitation, violence and HIV/AIDS.”

Here are some more interesting facts from the WHO:

  • Around 70% of early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions.
  • Leading causes of death in under-five children are pneumonia, diarrhoea and health problems during the first month of life.
  • Over one third of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition.

If you would like to learn more about the state of the world’s children view UNICEF’s video, or if you are interested in maternal health view UNICEF’s video on maternal health in India.

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