Jennifer E. Dyer, PhD is Executive Director of Hope Through Healing Hands, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote a higher quality of life for citizens and communities around the world, using health as a currency for peace.

Global child health is an issue that affects all of us, and there are some things we ought to know about how this affects not only our Hispanic community, but really the entire world. Here are some of the things we need to know from an expert working in these social justice issues. What is the most important time in a child’s life to contribute to life-long health?

The first thousand days of a child’s life may be the most important in terms of impacting their health for their entire life. We mean from conception, so that’s actually until about a little after two years old.

What are the critical needs of these first thousand days that Hispanic moms and families may not be aware of?

Making sure moms have access to good pre-natal care, making sure they’re taking their folic acid, and their vitamins, access to a health provider, a caregiver, and then it also means having access to good nutrition for the baby, and for the mom, and clean water, which we sometimes take for granted here in the US. All of that is critical during those first nine months to prevent stunting issues for the health of the child, as well as the cognitive development of the child.

The next critical time is during the birth, having good skilled attendants; sometimes in developing nations, a mom might choose to have the child at home, which can often be dangerous for the mom, and many women die in that case. It’s vital to make sure there’s a skilled attendant for the birth, and then afterward, getting vaccines, breast feeding, and proper nutrition for the child. Past that, it’s key to learn how best to plan for further children. We have learned from good research that shows us, particularly in developing nations, that it’s important for moms who are living on less than a dollar or two a day, to space their children three years apart. If they can do this, the child is twice as likely to survive the first year of life.

As well as an infant mortality or child survival issue, it’s also an issue for the mom, as it combats maternal mortality. If she can debut a first pregnancy until the age of 20, rather than her early teens, which happens in so many cultures, including Latino cultures, the mother is five times more likely to survive the complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

While we recognize it’s a poverty issue in the developing world, what are some of the obstacles for Hispanic moms and families here in the States getting this kind of care and information?

Maybe moms or dads just don’t know the importance of getting good access to pre-natal care, the importance of good nutrition during that time in pregnancy, and they might not know the critical importance of vaccines for their children as a life-saving mechanism. It’s just educating yourself about the interventions and that first thousand day window, which sets up the stage for the whole life of the child, and the success of the child, both cognitively and physically.

For someone who wants to get involved in helping to educate their communities, especially Hispanic communities, what would you tell them?

To learn more about these efforts and how you can help, we have put a book together called, “The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope.” It has a foreword by Kay Warren, a preface by Melinda Gates, and 48 other different authors from the faith community have contributed to this book, to really educate families in the Church – including Hispanic and Catholic churches – about these maternal and child health issues and how critical they are to saving the lives of moms and kids around the world.

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