January 28, 2016

Where’s Youth in Family Planning…let’s walk the talk.

Written by Numfor A. Munteh, PMNCH Youth & Adolescent Constituency Member & Executive Director, CASD

Numfor Munteh

This week I am at the International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia where participants from around the world including policy makers technical experts, researchers, advocates and youth adolescent groups have gathered. I am excited to be one of the over 300 strong youth delegates here to make sure that 1.8 billion youth voices around the world are heard on an issue that greatly affects us. This conference is an ideal platform for worldwide engagement on issues of family planning (FP) and as a youth representative I see this as my golden opportunity to make sure leaders walk the talk.

At the opening plenary, we joined Honourable Awa Marie Coll Seck, Minister of Health and Social Action of Senegal to celebrate the tremendous progress her country has made on family planning. Senegal is actually the family planning role model in West Africa, in 2012, Senegal committed to doubling its budget for contraceptives, setting a target of 27% contraceptive usage by 2015. The latest statistics show’s an increase of 4%, from 12% usage to 16%. This progress is thanks in part to the “2012 Reviewed National Action Plan for FP” that integrates young people as a vital driver. Being a member of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) Youth constituency, I was very happy about the Senegal story, and imagine how this progress can be emulated by all nations to facilitate global drops in adolescent unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths.

While preparing my talking points for some of the side events I will attend, I came across some really distressing statistics. Most of us can probably rattle off these numbers without a second thought, but I want to remind myself again. Every year, 1.3 million adolescents die of preventable causes, 120 million girls under 20 years are victims of sexual violence and 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Around the world, 2.1 million adolescents live with HIV and 64% of new HIV infections occur in girls 15-19. Put into perspective, what a depressing place to grow up. It is no wonder that the two leading causes of death within this age group are suicide and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. What these numbers are telling us is that if this future generation of leaders are to survive and thrive then access to modern family planning methods is essential.

However, young people have limited representation in shaping policies and interventions to address these barriers.

In October last year something quite monumental happened. A little wind of change ushered in PMNCH’s 8th constituency—Adolescents and Youth. This new constituency has been established to enable meaningful participation of young people in the health and wellbeing agenda including the Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescent’s Health and the Sustainable Development Goals and to ensure their views are represented in global, regional and national policies and interventions. The new Adolescent and Youth constituency is made up of youth-led organisations and networks that have been leading on or implementing SRMNCAH work at national, regional or global levels for at least two years.

At this meeting in Lusaka, PMNCH’s Board took the decision to incorporate adolescents and youth across all its seven existing constituencies. What this platform creates is an opportunity for direct interaction and engagement with governments, donors, health professionals, businesses, civil society organisations and multilateral agencies to inform the dialogue on SRMNCAH across the continuum of care, and hold stakeholders accountable through these structures. This week at the conference, I will represent The Partnership’s Adolescent and Youth constituency at the MSD Africa Auxiliary event on Innovative Strategies to Address High Unmet Contraceptive Need among Youth and Adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa. My participation in this panel is an example of the advantages a platform such as PMNCH gives in encouraging collaboration between the Adolescent and Youth and Private Sector constituencies to examine solutions to address a specific family planning challenge.

Since the launch of the Global Strategy at the United Nations General Assembly in September, we have heard a lot of rhetoric around the importance of the Survive, Thrive and Transform agenda in fulfilling the global goals in 2030. Family planning has a specific role to play in achieving these goals if young people are to fulfil their potential to the highest attainable levels of health and well-being.