August 19, 2016

Shaping the Health of Our Future

“Our children are the seeds of all nations and their mothers are the soil.” With these powerful words, Dr. Doug McMillan, chair of the 28th International Congress of Pediatrics, officially opened the 2016 iteration of the world’s largest gathering of pediatric health care professionals. Jointly hosted by the International Pediatric Association (IPA) and the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), this year’s Congress has gathered thousands of participants and more than 220 speakers from all corners of the globe, joined to learn and share the latest pediatric science.

IPA 2016 Chair Dr. Doug McMillan hosts Wednesday’s opening plenary.

IPA 2016 Chair Dr. Doug McMillan hosts Wednesday’s opening plenary.

Applying the best science for baby’s health requires heath care professionals to continually stay up to date with the latest, evidence-backed care practices in this ever-changing field. From the smallest babies to the adolescents they care for, pediatricians and other health care providers are essential partners in ensuring every child and every adolescent will have the opportunity to survive, develop, and grow to thrive.

Held since 1912, the International Congress of Pediatrics has long been a place for champions of pediatric health to meet and learn from one another. A triennial gathering, this conference presents not only the latest thinking in physical, mental, and social health, but also “a unique moment of joy and happiness for the entire IPA family,” as IPA President Andreas Konstantopolous noted to delegates in his welcome remarks.

IPA President Prof. Konstantopolous welcomes thousands of IPA delegates to Vancouver.

IPA President Prof. Konstantopolous welcomes thousands of IPA delegates to Vancouver.

This year’s theme, “Community, Diversity, and Vitality,” was on full display in Vancouver throughout the opening ceremonies. Delegates were welcomed warmly into the community, not only by CPS President Jonathan Kronik, but also by an “Eagle Song” welcome performed by members of local First Nations communities. Later in the opening celebration, the Vancouver Children’s Choir lent more than a dozen powerful young voices to the opening conference events. Through a multigenerational celebration of local tradition, the messages of the performances provided a strong reminder that healthy children today will rise to be the generation carrying forward our cultures, our traditions, and our science tomorrow.

“Eagle Song” performance by members of Vancouver's First Nations communities.

“Eagle Song” performance by members of Vancouver’s First Nations communities.

Performance by the Vancouver Children’s Choir

Performance by the Vancouver Children’s Choir

Providing the keynote lecture, Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), lifted up the essential contributions to pediatric health and science made by the members of IPA:

“Child by child,” remarked Mr. Lake, “each of you in your daily work has contributed to making a healthier and peaceful world.”


UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake dually thanks and inspires pediatric professionals in his keynote address.

Children in the care of pediatricians are the future to building a healthier and more peaceful world — and with more children living through their 5th birthday, access to essential pediatric care is yielding important progress. But in a poignant reminder of the important work ahead, Mr. Lake reminded delegates that inequities still abound, and there is still a need to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty and poor health. Mr. Lake spoke on how we must make similar progress in nutrition, HIV reduction and prevention, and the elimination of violence against children, in order to promote healthy cognitive development and social and emotional learning.

In particular, the opening plenary keynote highlighted the importance of multisensory stimulation to early childhood development. Within the first three years of life, babies experience rapid development of their brains’ neural pathways. This sets the foundation for communication, understanding, social development, and emotional wellbeing. In a personal moment, Mr. Lake described how exposing his then-unborn grandchild to the sounds of Boston Red Sox games may have been what won the team a new, young fan. While his story offered a bit of levity to the conversation, the fact is that science demonstrates that what a baby feels, smells, sees, and hears enhances happy, healthy development.

Beyond the important interaction opportunities that Mr. Lake emphasized, we know there are many other important moments for baby to be stimulated in a way that enhances their development. Bath time, for instance, offers an opportunity for multisensorial stimulation that can have lasting benefits for childhood development. Engaging a baby with eye contact and gentle massage during the bath time ritual facilitates early non-verbal communication. It provides the foundation for social development, and direct eye contact specifically enhances neural processing.

Pediatricians, because of their focus on a full spectrum of health and wellness, are well-positioned to continue carrying the mantle of health, ensuring babies grow to be strong adolescents and thriving adults.

Wednesday’s opening is merely the beginning of a weeklong conversation packed with the latest “baby science” to help infants have their best possible start to life. Join the conversation throughout the week at the Crowd360 Baby Science hub, and by participating in social media conversations using #IPA2016.