Viva adolescent health!
By Jacqueline Ma, HealthBridge Canada intern
Adolescents have been largely neglected in the field of global health. They are often marginalized and provided fewer opportunities than other people. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires multi-sectoral strategies to improve adolescent health and address gender inequality, emphasizing adolescent girls and youth empowerment.
To highlight the importance of addressing adolescent health, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children (CanWaCH) hosted the Global Adolescent Health Conference: Unleashing the Power of a Generation (May 16-17, 2017). This brought together many government ministers and officials, civil society leaders, academics and youths. The conference focused on four pillars:
- Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)
- Mental Health
One of the challenges to improving global adolescent health is the lack of data on this demographic. Acknowledging this, the conference highlighted a tool called U-Report. It allows young people to participate in polls through SMS and social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, apps, etc.), making their voices heard through the feedback they provide. This tool encourages youth engagement so that key policy and government leaders recognize the issues that they face.
Community-based youth drama was another approach that I learned about at the conference. This is a fun and interactive method for engaging not only youth but other community members, particularly males. During a panel discussion, HealthBridge Project Manager Cassandra Morris, spoke about how HealthBridge engages with adolescents in Nepal. Through our project Saving the lives of mothers and children in Nepal and Vietnam, we conduct workshops and provide other support so they can perform community ‘street dramas’.
Freedom of girls to choose
Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of International Development, emphasized adolescent health, particularly SRHR, as a priority of her government. She stressed how important it is for adolescent girls to have the freedom and ability to make their own choices about their bodies, specifically IF they want children, WHEN they want children, and WHO they want their partner to be.
This conference was a call to action for government and NGOs to tackle the barriers preventing adolescents from achieving optimal health. It was also a place for knowledge sharing, discussing evidence-based decision making, solution-driven programming and policy making, and how to incorporate youth voices.
Achieving health for all requires collaboration at both local and global levels. Addressing social determinants of health will be essential in breaking down barriers.
As a Master of Public Health student embarking on a journey, striving to make a difference in the world, it was an eye-opener to see the passion and collaboration of global partners and community leaders as they came together to ensure that no one is left behind.
Viva adolescent health!
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