Several years ago, I got married to a man who completed my desire to become a fulfilled mother. A year and three months later, we welcomed our precious baby boy. The birth of our son reinforced the reality that I would fiercely protect and provide for another human. And on that beautiful, warm March evening, I vowed to give my little man everything he needed. Also, strive to ensure that within the confines of my strength and resources, no harm would come his way. I am sure this surge of love and protective instinct is one every parent and caregiver can identify with.
It is this same drive to protect the child that led to the setting aside of a Children’s Day for the purpose of honoring and celebrating children as well as encouraging and fostering the promotion of the welfare of children. In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child; an international document which emphasizes children’s rights to protection, education, healthcare, shelter and good nutrition.
As we celebrate Children’s Day today, I urge us all to take a step back to truly re-evaluate what it means to protect our children; especially in the area of their health. Good health is the foundation for children’s future academic and socioeconomic success. According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), more than 6 million children worldwide die before their fifth birthday every year. And this is despite the progress made with modern medicine and public health. Roughly 1.5 million of those deaths are caused by infectious diseases like measles, diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. It is both interesting and sad that most of these diseases and resultant deaths can be prevented.
Being a public health specialist with a focus on infectious diseases in Nigeria, I am at the forefront of responding to disease outbreaks in Nigeria. But this past week, as I reflected on the upcoming Children’s Day whilst responding to the Cholera outbreak in Northern Nigeria, I was forced to rethink my understanding of my role of ‘protecting’ my children’s health.
Globally, a child under 5 years old dies every two minutes as a result of diarrhea. This amounts to 500,000 infant deaths a year. Cholera is one of the leading and deadliest causes of diarrhea in Nigeria; women and children are mostly affected. I am disturbed by the knowledge that many children, forming part of the most vulnerable subsect of the society, might not have the opportunity to realize their potentials.
Whenever protecting my children comes to mind, I only associate it with protection from emotional and physical harm. You can argue that this includes health because I provide them access to the best health care I can afford.
However, I realized that there is a fundamental flaw with my reasoning as most of the time, I only provided my children with access to the best health care WHEN they fell sick. I was deliberate about providing food, shelter, access to good education and health for my children but I was not ensuring to the same degree that they did not get sick.
Most public health specialists will highlight the importance of taking preventive measures against infectious diseases, in lay terms; this is where the bulk of ‘protecting your child’s health’ lies.
The next question you may ask is ‘How can I be deliberate about my child’s health?’
Here are some areas I encourage you to pay attention to:
1. Reinforce basic hygiene at home:
Make hand washing a way of life in your home, teach basic toilet hygiene practices and ensure your environment is always clean.
2. Provide access to clean and safe drinking water
3. Vaccinate children on time and keep records:
Most infectious diseases are vaccine-preventable. You are encouraged as a parent/guardian to protect your kids from infectious diseases through vaccination.
4. Encourage and offer healthier food options:
Good and balanced nutrition is key to raising a healthy child. Be deliberate about your food options and don not forget to wash the food and vegetables properly before eating.
5. Incorporate hospital check-ups into your yearly routines:
If you are like (the former) me, hospital visits occur only when the kids are sick. However, now, I know better. Early detection of diseases and confirmation by the pediatrician that children are developing well is crucial. You should speak to your child’s doctor about the recommended number of well checkups for each specific child but these should be no less than twice a year.
6. Make self-medication a thing of the past:
I know that majority of parents are certified ‘Dr. Googles’ and pharmacists. It is best to take your children to your local or preferred health center if they are unwell and do ask the doctors questions and be informed about your child’s care
7. Be sensitive to your child’s emotional and mental health:
Health is holistic and an all-round healthy child is also balanced emotionally and mentally.
8. Model positive behaviors:
Your child watches and learns more from what is seen than what is heard you so it is important to ‘walk the talk’.
If you have noticed, none of the things I have said above is new but sometimes we take their importance for granted.
It is my hope and wish that going forward, as you think of your intense love for your child and your duty as a parent you remember to be deliberate and intentional about protecting their health.
This Children’s Day, I will be making the little ones some jollof rice, baked chicken and vegetables with watermelon slices for lunch AND scheduling their first routine check-up for the year!
I am taking baby steps…and so should you.
Happy Children’s Day! Be Proactive! Be Deliberate!
About Mrs. Chibuzo Eneh
Chibuzo is a deputy director in the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) during the day and mum to four wonderful children, day and night. She is passionate about raising well-rounded children, her faith and natural hair.
You can follow her on twitter @chibuskky