Save the Children Vanuatu (SCV) has embarked on a new approach on Early Childhood Development (ECD).

The new strategy focuses on Growth Monitoring Promotion Plus (GMP+) for infants 6 weeks old to 5-year-old children, under its Bildimap Bren blong Pikinini Project.

In Vanuatu, approximately 29% of children under five (and 40% of children within the poorest wealth quintile) suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting), which is caused in part by poor health and nutrition practices and is impacted by additional elements as described in the WHO and UNICEF-developed Nurturing Care Framework.

The Government of Vanuatu has signaled its commitment to ECD through its endorsement of the Pasifika Call to Action on ECD and Ministry of Health (MoH) is in the stages of defining their commitments to ECD and are considering incorporating ECD into their updated Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) Strategy for 2021-2025.

Recently, SCV established an inauguration for the establishment of the Technical Working Group for the GMP + Program.

“Building on the successes of our Australian NGO Corporation Program known as the Fes 1,000 Deis implemented from 2017 -2021, Save the Children’s Bildimap Bren blong Pikinini addresses ECD more comprehensively, generates evidence and advocates for key issues that affects the growth and development of children, including children living with a disability,” SCV stated.

“The principal outcome of the project is that families and communities have the skills, attitudes, and support to ensure the health and wellbeing of all children 0-5, including those with disabilities.”

In collaboration with the government, development partners and national organizations, the following components of the Project will be implemented: Parent Support Program (PSP), GMP+ and Social Protection systems.

Achieving the above would require coordinated approach to tools development, supportive supervision of health workers and sustained GMP+ sessions in the Health Facilities. Furthermore, the success of the pilot may influence scale up of GMP+ to other provinces.

Accordingly, SVA with its implementing partners –MoH, Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), Vanuatu Society for People with Disability (VSPD), Ministry of Justice and Community Services (MoJCS) and other key stakeholders assembled at The Grand and established a Steering Committee.

This committee will be responsible for reviewing and finalizing data collection tools and other project materials for service providers and beneficiaries, supporting training of service providers on relevant aspect of the GMP+ intervention, and periodic supportive supervision to health facilities and on-the-job training of Health workers/service providers.

In Vanuatu, it is a common practice for caregivers to routinely attend the Growth Monitoring Promotion (GMP) clinic sessions at the health facility with their babies for at least the first year. This project will test the integration of growth and development milestones into routing GMP sessions in 10 selected Health Facilities in SHEFA and SANMA Provinces.

GMP+ will offer routine contact points to monitor growth and provide encouragement to caregivers on diet and small doable actions tailored to their child. Expanding this entry point to include developmental milestone assessments to screen children developmental delays or disabilities will improve early detection, support, and referral. Health workers and Village Health Workers (VHWs) will be trained on the new Pikinini Helt Buk, standard development milestones to check during any engagement with a child to see if they are on track and developing normally (e.g., standing, walking, using language at expected ages). Children who are consistently not meeting expected milestones will be referred for further evaluation at provincial hospitals and support through the provincial health system.

At the inauguration last week when the Technical Working Group was endorsed, Dr Jenny Stephen, Acting Director Public Health stated, “I came into the room, sitting and listening with great interest on the presentations going on. The disability presentation has raised and highlighted some very gaps in which health services do not make its services inclusive, thinking it’s not relevant to health.

“But the Ministry of Health would like to acknowledge Save the Children as its partner in bringing together all the stakeholders here today and making this meeting an eye opener with what is presented and discussed. It will assist the Ministry to be more inclusive with its services.”

She noted Save The Children’s long-time partnership with the MoH.

“Early Childhood Development is one the most important Public Health program that SCV is so committed to seeing positive impacts in our children’s development, during their monthly MCH visits by creating and supporting the Public Health Department with a new position of the Early Childhood Development Program Coordinator,” Dr Stephen said.

“This position will work closely with the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child and Adolescent Health. A strong commitment to Early Childhood Development is the foundation to building a bright healthy nation.”

SV acknowledged the MoH, MoET, MoJCS and VSPD for their time and participation throughout the inauguration of the GMP+ meeting and in forming this Technical Working Group.

Bildimap Bren blong Pikinini is supported by the Australian Government, through the Australian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Cooperation Program.