Safeguarding Our Future: A Public Health Journey in Nurturing Healthy Environments for Children.

In our ever-evolving world, our children face unprecedented challenges, spanning from climate change to deteriorating environmental conditions. These factors pose a significant threat to the survival, health, and overall well-being of our youngest generation. With their developing organs and constantly evolving immune and nervous systems, children are more susceptible to the hazards of their surroundings. 

Children encounter heightened vulnerability to various environmental threats, including air pollution, inadequate water, exposure to hazardous chemicals, and emerging challenges like e-waste. The far-reaching impact of these challenges underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to safeguard the well-being of children worldwide.

In 2016, I began my public health journey working with the Society for Indian Children’s Welfare to address the well-being of mothers and children who lived in the slums of Kolkata, India. I promoted healthy behaviours to protect and enhance the health of socio-economically marginalized populations.

During my year-long tenure visiting the homes in the slum community of Kolkata, India, I learned about environmental issues that contributed to health problems in children, including poor indoor and outdoor air pollution that made children susceptible to asthma, pneumonia, and acute respiratory infections. Exposure to second-hand smoke and the use of firewood for cooking exacerbated their vulnerability. Due to their poor socio-economic background, they lived in small and poorly ventilated spaces without proper partitions, which further created an unhealthy environment for infants and children. To address these issues, I recommended practical steps for parents to follow. I advised keeping their children away from smoke generated from cooking, advocated for windows to be open when cooking for better ventilation, and requested parents to refrain from smoking in the presence of their children. I also carried out awareness campaigns to educate residents about the health hazards of indoor air pollution and the importance of adopting clean cooking methods. These collective efforts aimed to alleviate the adverse effects of environmental factors on the health of vulnerable children within the community.

I also discovered unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation during my home visits. Community residents relied on tube wells for water sources, lacking proper equipment for water purification or filtration, leading to waterborne diseases like diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and jaundice. These problems are exacerbated during the monsoon season due to open drains and inadequate sewage facilities, resulting in skin infections and outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever. To address these challenges, we conducted a health awareness workshop to educate residents on the significance of hygiene, sanitation, and safe water practices. We collaborated with community leaders to implement water treatment measures and encouraged members of the community to boil and cool their water as needed. I introduced affordable water purification methods, such as chlorine tablets and water filters. I also implemented proper waste disposal and recycling programs to ensure cleanliness and curb the spread of diseases. Furthermore, I emphasized the importance of regular handwashing with soap to prevent waterborne diseases and taught residents the proper handwashing techniques.

To better prepare the community for the impact of environmental factors on children, it is crucial to prioritize the enhancement of children’s immunity, with nutrition and vaccines playing pivotal roles. As part of our initiative to safeguard children from the detrimental effects of pollution, I meticulously monitored their immunization status. Through our organization, children were vaccinated against pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) with age-specific vaccines. We also adopted a comprehensive approach to address nutritional well-being. Regular tracking of the children’s nutritional status was conducted bi-annually, and those who were identified as undernourished were provided with supplementary feeds. We emphasized the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, encouraging mothers to adopt this practice further to enhance the overall health and immunity of their children. Children in need were referred to the organization’s mother and child clinic, ensuring they received essential medical support and crucial immunizations free of charge. This collective effort aimed to strengthen individual children against environmental pollutants as well as to cultivate a holistic approach to child health and well-being within the community. 

I am pleased that this community health program contributed to positive changes in the behaviours of parents and children regarding healthy habits, ultimately improving their health-seeking behaviours.

From my extensive experience in the field, it is evident that children today face unprecedented environmental challenges that demand our immediate attention. There is a collective responsibility to create environments that nurture rather than harm. Through preventive measures, awareness, and concerted efforts, we can ensure that every child, regardless of their geographical location, has the opportunity to grow and thrive in a safe and healthy space. Let us embark on this journey together to safeguard the well-being of our future generations.


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