Global art and science exhibition highlights critical first 1000 days of children’s lives

UCL and the charity India Alliance have launched an online global art and science exhibition to raise awareness of the impact on children’s health of the first 1000 days of their lives.

The Early Years: A Window of Opportunity offers the public and health professionals a rich array of galleries, film screenings and webinars designed to elevate issues of mother and child health in India, with a focus on the time from conception to the age of two.

The exhibition has been organised by Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health) in partnership with the DBT Wellcome Trust India Alliance, with UCL alum Dr Kartik Sharma, filmmaker and founder of Public Arts Health & Us (PAHUS) India as the project’s co-lead.

Organisers say the health of mothers and children, fundamental to the development of societies, continues to be a global health concern that risks being set back several years by COVID-19. This makes it all the more urgent to pay attention to maternal health, the time children have with their mothers, child nutrition, hygiene and positive childhood experiences such as play, while preventing negative childhood experiences.

Professor Monica Lakhanpaul said: "The first 1,000 days of a child’s life have always been critical, but even more so as we emerge from the pandemic. Children not only require good nutrition but also a nurturing and safe environment to give them the best start to life. It is our duty to bring attention to this important time in a child’s life, and there is no better way to do this than through the power of the arts.

"I’m pleased to partner with India Alliance on this project. Together we are pursuing the goal of improving public engagement with research using innovative approaches and making science accessible for all."

It is hoped that policy makers and others will be moved to action by the exhibition and panel discussion on how to improve the long-term physical and mental health of both children and their mothers. It exposes just how critical pregnancy and the months before a child is two years old to the rest of their lives. Exhibits and activities include:

  • A gallery of new artwork submissions collected from Indian rural and urban artists
  • Drawings by children about their COVID-19 experience from Nagariya Panchela Senior Secondary School, Dungarpur and Padli Gujreshwar, Dungarpur
  • A virtual exhibition showcasing photographs from the UCL-led PANChSHEEEL Project on infant and young child feeding and nutrition in India, alongside selected artwork and text from the Birthing a Better Future Art & Science Exhibition, which has also been on display at the UK Houses of Parliament
  • A film screening of Unsafe Spaces about domestic violence,  directed by Priyadarshi Khastgir, produced by Our Little Idea
  • Panels comprising leading-edge pioneers discussing the power of art in public health and multi-pronged approaches to support ’The Early Years’

The first 1,000 days in a child’s life provide that critical window of opportunity to shape their development. The rapid physical, social, emotional, and cognitive milestones throughout this period depend on positive pregnancy experiences, responsive parenting, optimal nutrition, and nurturing environments that are secure and sustainable.

Yet, according to the Global Nutrition Report 2018, 150.8 million children (22.2%) under five years of age are stunted, 50.5 million children under five are wasted - below their expected height - and 20 million new-born babies are estimated to be of low birth weight.

Estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that one in three women worldwide experience either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

Increasing birth interventions and caesarean rates can interrupt bonding and breastfeeding, which in turn impacts mental health. Child abuse is a global problem resulting in serious lifelong developmental consequences. All these factors have a bearing on brain growth and child wellbeing.

Dr Vasan Sambandamurthy, CEO of the DBT Wellcome Trust India Alliance said:  "Important research on health published in scientific publications and presented at conferences rarely reaches the public. It’s important for the research community to find creative and innovative ways to communicate with and to engage and involve the public in research that impacts their health and wellbeing.

"We are very happy to partner with Prof Monica Lakhanpaul on this exhibition to improve awareness of research and evidence-based policies on maternal and child health to enable a wider dialogue on addressing this global problem in a holistic and timely manner."


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