For a region that is considered middle-income, it is unacceptable that one in every 40 children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) dies in the first year of life mostly from preventable causes. Neither does it makes sense that one fifth of its youngest population is stunted from malnutrition, and more than half are missing out on critical micronutrients such as iodine in salt, which impairs cognitive development. Moreover, with only 27 percent of children ages 3-5 enrolled in pre-school, almost half the world average, three quarters of children in the region are missing the opportunity to build the foundations for school readiness, and to acquire the skills they will need to lead a happy, autonomous, and healthy life.
What are the implications of these alarming trends?
When President Obama announced a number of investment priorities for his second term that would expand the economy and strengthen the middle class, his focus on bolstering early childhood education caught my attention. I agree with his premise and furthermore think that what is good for the United States is also good for developing countries. But what stands in the way of a more aggressive, nationwide emphasis on early childhood development worldwide? Are opportunities being missed because of lack of knowledge or coordination failures?