Building on long-term benefits of early intervention (Paper 2 of this Series) and increasing commitment to early childhood development (Paper 1 of this Series), scaled up support for the youngest children is essential to improving health, human capital, and wellbeing across the life course. In this third paper, new analyses show that the burden of poor development is higher than estimated, taking into account additional risk factors. National programmes are needed. Greater political prioritisation is core to scale-up, as are policies that afford families time and financial resources to provide nurturing care for young children. Effective and feasible programmes to support early child development are now available. All sectors, particularly education, and social and child protection, must play a role to meet the holistic needs of young children. However, health provides a critical starting point for scaling up, given its reach to pregnant women, families, and young children. Starting at conception, interventions to promote nurturing care can feasibly build on existing health and nutrition services at limited additional cost. Failure to scale up has severe personal and social consequences. Children at elevated risk for compromised development due to stunting and poverty are likely to forgo about a quarter of average adult income per year, and the cost of inaction to gross domestic product can be double what some countries currently spend on health. Services and interventions to support early childhood development are essential to realising the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals.
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