September 25, 2014

Reimagining Adolescent Health — Educate, Engage, Empower Youth

Written by Ann LoLordo, Jhpiego

Ask a room full of global health experts, women’s advocates, NGO professionals, youth activists and corporate leaders what success would look like in a world where the health and social challenges facing adolescents of the developing world were properly addressed, and here’s what they say:

Child marriage is done — not one single girl is married until she is 18.

Adolescents engaging quality health services without stigma.

Girls more involved in politics at all levels.

Seeing adolescents as having agency, as owning themselves.

A new gender paradigm in which young women and men are involved in their own reproductive health and treat each other with the dignity and respect that they both deserve.

Youth friendly services work.

Adolescent services are on par . . . with the Netherlands.

The conversation today was that wide-ranging at the “Reimagining Adolescent Health in the Developing World” event hosted by Jhpiego, an international health non-profit, during UNGA week.

Catherine M. Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Women’s Issues, opened the event. A panel of global health experts, including Dr. Jennifer Adams, U.S. Agency for International Development, Bruce Campbell, UNFPA, Dr. David Barash, GE Foundation, Dr. John Santelli, Columbia University, and Dr. Ricky Lu, of Jhpiego, explored a range of issues facing the tens of millions of adolescents in the developing world, topics such as girls’ education, child marriage, access to health care, economic empowerment and the partnerships needed to address these issues.

In a phrase, panel member and youth leader Wangari Wanjiku, of the Brighter Future program in Kenya, explained how best to empower youth: access to accurate information.

“Matters of sexuality are never talked about,” she says. But, with the right information, adolescents can make informed decisions about their life, about their futures.

Other take aways from this morning’s event:

Health systems register a child at birth. Ironically, the young girl falls off of at 5 years and doesn’t appear in the health system until her first pregnancy. We lose that girl during her greatest vulnerability. We have to get that girl back onto the charts.

Keeping girls in school has health impacts that are immeasurable.

Conditional cash transfers to have girls stay in school.

Ninety percent of pregnancy in adolescents take place within marriage. That is a space that offers possibilities for programming … to establish health care norms.

Adolescents are people, not subjects of our interventions. We need to empower them.

Civil society has to hold governments accountable to make successful programs sustainable.

We have to do a better job of building political will.

Encourage or support youth entrepreneurs to run youth services.

Take what we learn from measurements and do something about it. Pick the things that are a success and run with them. Measure, amplify the results, tell the story and scale it.

Civil society has to hold governments accountable to make successful programs sustainable.

Leslie Mancuso, President and CEO of Jhpiego, urged event participants to join together and, in partnership, respond to the needs of the world’s youth: “This is our time to act. This is our time to make the future of adolescents a priority. Jhpiego is deeply committed to ensuring adolescents have access to quality (health) services when they want them where they want them. We look forward to moving this agenda forward with our colleagues and partners.”