|The Condition of Young Children in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Convergence of Health, Nutrition, and Early Education (WB, 1996, 64 p.)|
|2. The status of children In sub-Saharan Africa|
Child development cannot be broken up into separate domains, nor reduced to the bureaucratic turf of one sectoral ministry or another. A child's learning capacity depends on an interactive process of health, nutrition, and child-care giver interaction. The latest research on the relationship between health, nutrition, and stimulation argues convincingly that an adequate food supply is not enough to ensure a child's development. Growth and development are fostered when all these variables are present within a caring environment. A 10-year study in Mexico has demonstrated the negative effect of severe malnutrition and lack of home stimulation on school readiness and language development (Chavez and Martinez 1981).
Early childhood development programs are a necessary foundation for the other programs such as primary schooling or health care to be effective. They should be seen neither as a 'trade-off' against, nor a mere complement to, other development programs. Combined programs take advantage of the interactive effects among health. nutrition, and early stimulation, with increased benefits at marginal cost. In addition, early childhood services can serve as vehicles for extending primary health care, food security, and other development programs.
A key challenge, though, is to find effective ways to organize and finance the task. The information about the cost per child of services is still lacking for developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, while there are various ways of financing early child development services, there is a lack of a systematic review on this topic. Given the limited existing resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, the means of financing ECD programs have to be either through making efficient use of the existing health, nutrition, and basic education programs, by mobilizing additional community resources, or by reallocating the current budget. In addition, one might consider subsidizing private provision through tax incentives and other innovative means and by promoting more private and voluntary (NGO sector) investments.
In the final analysis, early childhood development programs should be seen as the basic underpinning for Sub-Saharan Africa's future and the foundation of a healthy, prosperous, creative and competitive region. Children have the 'right' to be cherished, to be loved, well-fed, and stimulated. To care about Sub-Saharan Africa's future is to ensure that its children grow up in an environment where they can achieve this right.