The Importance of Focusing on Global Adolescent Health

Credit @ SickKids

By: Rebecca Milec, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)

Credit @ SickKids
Credit @ SickKids

According to UNICEF there are almost 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide, accounting for almost one fifth of the world’s population, with nearly 90 percent living in low and middle income countries. On Tuesday, February 18, 2014, the Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) brought together leading international experts to address the state of adolescent health globally at the 8th annual SickKids Global Child Health Day: Global Adolescent Health: Adolescents and Global Health-Care Systems.

Expert speakers included representatives from UNICEF, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP), The Lancet and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The keynote address was given by leading international adolescent health experts Professor Susan M Sawyer of the Royal Children’s Hospital, University of Melbourne and Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (Australia) and Professor George A Patton, also of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne and the University of Melbourne.

Over the course of the day, panelists presented and deliberated on the core health issues facing adolescents, including sexual and reproductive health, early and forced marriage, pregnancy, mental health, injury, non-communicable diseases, nutrition, and social determinants of health, and barriers such as poverty and access to education.

Sexual and reproductive health has been a major area of focus in adolescent health policy. According to recent figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth in developing countries every year, 2 million of whom are under the age of 15. These statistics are extremely troubling because pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls aged 15-19 in low-income countries.

One of the issues presented by Saskia de Pee, from WFP, was the lack of accessibility to proper nutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding young mothers and adolescent girls, which requires specific nutrition and adolescent sensitive interventions. Dr. Mariam Claeson, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supports the need to address nutrition, noting that a woman’s nutritional status entering pregnancy is a major determinant in fetal growth and development.

A group of young people in the Dominican Republic learn the importance of working togther to create change, and that the best responses to difficulties come from within the community © 2006 Helen Hawkings, Courtesy of Photoshare

A group of young people in the Dominican Republic learn the importance of working togther to create change, and that the best responses to difficulties come from within the community
© 2006 Helen Hawkings, Courtesy of Photoshare

The afternoon session focused on adolescent health and nutrition post-2015. There are less than two years to go until the target date for the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to be completed. None of the eight goals specifically refer to adolescents.  In the 2013 UN report from the Secretary-General’s independent Expert Review Group (iERG) for monitoring progress on targets for maternal and child health and survival “Every Woman, Every Child: Strengthening Equity and Dignity Through Health” an entire chapter was devoted to adolescent health, recognizing their neglect and need.

With the 2015 MDGs target deadline fast approaching, the international community is taking steps towards the development of the post-2015 global development agenda. This begs the question – how will we change our focus post-2015 to aid this demographic?

Dr. Judith Diers, from UNICEF, called for an increasing push for attention towards adolescents and provided a set of recommended actions, including: increasing the visibility of adolescents through monitoring and data systems, allocating sufficient resources for multi-sectoral plans at the national level to address adolescent issues, investing in innovation and engaging adolescents as agents of change. “We need to engage adolescents as innovators themselves,” said Dr. Judith Diers. This was supported by Jane Ferguson, from WHO, stating that “adolescents are people not problems.”

This important event hosted international thought-leaders in global child and adolescent health and brought to light some of the core issues facing adolescents today. “Toronto is emerging as a key hub for global child and adolescent health,” stated Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, SickKids Centre for Global Child Health, SickKids and Professor at the University of Toronto. The Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto is dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families in resource poor environments around the world.

Not only were issues brought to the surface, but discussions were held and ideas were formed as to how we can improve the future health outcomes for young people around the world – and engage young people directly in leading change. Young people must be recognized as more than just a demographic. They are agents of change who must be empowered to engage with health care systems, global health trends, and development agendas.

www.sickkids.ca/globalchildhealth

@SickKidsGlobal

 

 

 

 

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