Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Early child development: a powerful equalizer

World Health Organization

Publication details

Number of pages: 38
Publication date: March 2007
Languages: English



This document synthesizes knowledge about opportunities to improve the state of early child development on a global scale. In keeping with international policy standards, early childhood is defined as the period from prenatal development to eight years of age. What a child experiences during the early years sets a critical foundation for the entire life course. This is because early child development (ECD), including health, physical, social/emotional and language/cognitive domains strongly influences basic learning, school success, economic participation, social citizenry and health.

Within the work of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, ECD has strong links to other social determinants of health, particularly Urban Systems, Gender, Globalization, and Health Care Services. Areas of common concern with these determinants are made clear, though implicit, throughout this document. Moreover, it is argued that Child Survival and Child Health agendas are indivisible from Early Child Development. That is, taking a developmental perspective on the early years provides an overarching framework of understanding that subsumes issues of survival and health.

The document provides a framework for understanding the environments (and their characteristics) that play a significant role in influencing early development. The principal strategic insight of this document is that the nurturant qualities of the environments where children grow up, live and learn - parents, caregivers, family and community - will have the most significant impact on their development. In most situations, parents and caregivers cannot provide strong nurturant environments without help from local, regional, national, and international agencies. Government and civil society actors, from local to international, can work in concert with families to provide equitable access to strong nurturant environments for all children globally.