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‘Advancing ECD thru’ primary healthcare initiatives must for Smart Bangladesh’

Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Samanta Lal Sen has stressed the importance of early childhood development (ECD) through government primary healthcare initiatives.

“Children are the future of Bangladesh. If we can foster their mental development from childhood, undoubtedly, they will grow up to become leaders. So, we will continue to work together as a partner with icddr,b to promote child development,” he said.

He was speaking as the chief guest at a dissemination seminar on “Early Child Development Programme in Bangladesh,” organised by icddr,b at its Sasakawa Auditorium at Mohakhali in Dhaka on Thursday (July 4) morning.

Praising the contributions of icddr,b to the country’s healthcare system, Dr Sen said icddr,b has been playing a pivotal role in research, training, project implementation, and experience sharing in collaboration with various development organisations, research, and academic institutions worldwide.

“The Bangladesh government, alongside icddr,b’s Child Development Unit and development partners, is working to accelerate early childhood development,” he said.

Highlighting the importance of primary healthcare, the Health Minister said, “If we can improve upazila and district community clinics and hospitals, patients will be able to receive proper treatment locally, instead of coming to Dhaka. We must work for the benefit of the common people.”

Emphasizing the significance of proper childhood development, he said, “Our country will move forward if we can enhance our children’s development.”

State Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr Rokeya Sultana and Director General of DGHS Professor Dr Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam spoke at the seminar as special guests.

Executive Director of icddr,b Dr Tahmeed Ahmed delivered the address of welcome.

State Minister Dr Rokeya Sultana said, “icddr,b’s work on children’s mental and physical development is commendable. It is crucial to consider the environment in which they are being raised. This includes their homes, surroundings, schools, and more. Ensuring a proper environment is essential for their development as well.”

She also thanked icddr,b and DGHS for implementing such a timely intervention.

Dr Tahmeed Ahmed also presented some of icddr,b’s research findings, showcasing the organisation’s impact on the country’s healthcare system over the years.

Dr Shams El Arifeen, Senior Director of MCHD at icddr,b, delivered the closing remarks, expressing gratitude to the government for partnering with icddr,b and leading the initiative.

Dr Jena Derakhshani Hamadani, Emeritus Scientist at the Maternal and Child Health Division (MCHD) of icddr,b, presented icddr,b’s extensive research showing that play-based child-rearing programs significantly enhance children’s cognitive, language, physical, and behavioural development.

Dr Hamadani reported that the Bangladesh government has prioritised early childhood development under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, specifically Target 4.2, which aims to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education to prepare them for primary education. The government, in partnership with icddr,b, is implementing early childhood development programs through community clinics in the Primary Health Care system to enhance parents’ childcare knowledge and skills, promoting holistic child development.

Currently, the program is implemented in 613 community clinics across 21 upazilas in four districts (Narsingdi, Habiganj, Brahmanbaria,and Laxmipur). 485 health and family planning officials were trained on early childhood development, who then trained 1,821 frontline health workers, including Community Health Care Providers (CHCPs), Health Assistants (HAs), and Family Welfare Assistants (FWAs), to deliver these services. As a result, more than 14,000 caregivers of children aged 6-36 months have so far been trained. icddr,b’s evaluation found that participating mothers have improved knowledge and skills in child nurturing practices, indicating the initiative’s potential in fostering talented children and shaping a smarter Bangladesh.

Dr Hamadani concluded that comprehensive child development can be accelerated affordably through age-appropriate play. With the support of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, we hope to expand the program effectively to all the community clinics in the country and help build a smarter Bangladesh.

The seminar was attended by several line directors of the DGHS, and representatives from government and non-government organisations, and international development agencies, involved in child development initiatives.