August 20, 2016

Adolescents: Our Most Vital Resource

Written by Baby Science Live Coverage Team

“We talk about peak oil, we talk about peak water—we don’t talk much about peak youth.” With over 1.8 billion adolescents and young people on the planet today, we’d be hard-pressed to imagine such a large population not being a global health priority.

We’d be wrong.

Professor George Patton, chair of The Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Well-being, kicked off Friday’s plenary on adolescent health here at the International Congress on Pediatrics (ICP) highlighting our truly most vital resource: adolescents. While never deprioritized, adolescents were a major blind spot in the Millennium Development Goals, suggested Professor Patton, breaking the potential for a true continuum of pediatric care.

The effects of that blind spot were made very clear in the Patton’s work for The Lancet. Through the new Sustainable Development Goals, the robust advocacy efforts of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s updated Every Woman, Every Child strategy, released last September, is elevating adolescent health in the global agenda.

Now, more than ever, we need dedicated research, action, and care focused on adolescents. Recent WHO information tells us why:

  • In 2015 alone, an estimated 1.3 million adolescents died from mostly preventable and treatable causes.
  • Adolescents are only age category where the incidence of HIV is rising.
  • There are globally 49 births per 1000 girls’ aged 15 to 19 every year.
  • An estimated 180 adolescents die every day as a result of interpersonal violence.

Dr. Vikram Patel, a co-author to the Commission, detailed the three core areas of action in adolescent health: diseases of poverty, injuries and non-communicable diseases. Within these three areas, the Commission disaggregated their calls to action into geographic priorities: multi-burden countries (experiencing all three areas), injury-excess countries and NCDs-predominant countries.

Herein lies the opportunity: half of the world’s youth are currently living in multi-burden countries making the chance for integrated and evidence-driven programs for adolescents a major pathway to the SDGs.

Our children are our future. But while this old adage is true, we must recognize that our adolescents are our present. Our investment in health will be for naught if we do not have a healthy generation of leaders to take up the mantle of the SDGs to 2030. Today’s adolescents are also the next generation of parents, Patton explained, and investing in their health literacy and agency creates an informed generation of parents ready to employ healthy strategies with their own children.

Co-author of the Commission, Professor Susan Sawyer, emphasized the importance of including young people in the development and implementation of our adolescent health strategies. Young people understand the challenges facing them better than anyone, Sawyer advocated, highlighting how adolescents see solutions not from a single silo but from across the their lives.

Tackling the challenge of adolescent health is a global priority. As a truly global network of pediatricians, the International Pediatrics Association (IPA) and its members are well-positioned to step up to meet this need. Empowered pediatricians can create and sustain the continuum of care so desperately needed for our world’s largest-ever generation of youth. Armed with the Commission’s evidence, pediatric health care professionals will be agents of change to meet the unmet health needs of our world’s most vital resource: our adolescents.

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Credit: Our Future: a Lancet Commission on adolescent health and wellbeing.