Health, Maternal and Newborn Health
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Accelerating Action for Adolescent Health

youth panel

By 2030, my generation will be the parents, teachers, healthcare providers and entrepreneurs of the world. We’ll be the policy makers, the heads of state and the politicians. Today’s teenagers will occupy the future the Sustainable Development Goals will shape. Young people’s voices, passions and priorities must guide the monitoring and evaluation process in order to ensure in 15 years the world we live in is a better and fairer one, with quality healthcare accessible to all adolescents.

Why are adolescents important to conversations about maternal and newborn health?

Every year, approximately 1 million girls under 15 give birth. Every single day, that is 20,000 girls under 18. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second biggest cause of death for adolescents globally, as pre-pubescent bodies are not designed for the physical demands of reproduction. Their babies, too, face a substantially higher risk of dying than those born to women in their early 20s. Adolescent pregnancy remains a major contributor to maternal and child mortality rates in today’s world. At the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference this week it’s important to remember when we talk about maternal and newborn health we are often simultaneously referring to the health of teenagers.

To improve healthcare for adolescents, services need to be both youth friendly and youth responsive: in other words, safe, respectful, un-intimidating, and needs-based. When it comes to understanding the needs of adolescents, it is the youth organizations working on the ground within local communities who are best placed to do this. These are the organizations which require direct and substantial financial investment from governments in order to strengthen their existing platforms and increase capacity.

In an inspiring panel session on Tuesday afternoon, Daniel Tobon Garcia from Columbia’s Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights addressed the role of youth in promoting accountability within healthcare programmes. Daniel explained the perception of young people to older generations is “problematic” within Colombia and remains a major hurdle for youth-led organizations. This hurdle is one the Sexual and Reproductive Rights movement has been working hard to challenge. He emphasized young people shouldn’t be consulted solely because it’s their human right, or because we’ve been told that their perspective is important, but because it’s effective.

How can monitoring and evaluation be truly youth-led?

Information needs to be generated at grassroots level about young people, by young people. The lack of current data available on access to healthcare for young people aged 10-14 is a priority for Action 2015 – a youth driven advocacy programme. Do 10-14 year-olds receive quality treatment? Are they discriminated against? Can they afford to pay for the services available, and are those services accessible to them? Training young people to collect, analyse and use data like this to put pressure on their government is a critical step in overcoming the barriers and challenges currently preventing adolescents from accessing the healthcare they need and deserve.

Funding and resource-support are required to carry out work like Daniel’s, and to allow young people to continue to work on the issues they feel passionate about. Working to accelerate action for adolescent health is as essential as any other profession that a young person might enter into, and deserves to be perceived as such. Youth-led organizations are mapping out what the future of our world will look like.

Current rhetoric around young people’s importance in all stages of project planning, decision making and evaluation needs to be turned into policy and practice in order to improve the health care on offer to adolescents and young people. As Daniel explained so clearly – “when you engage young people in the creation and implementation of policies – your policies will be effective”.

Follow the hashtag #GlobalMNH and @GirlsGlobe on Twitter, Instagram and Periscope for live coverage from the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference, and stay tuned on girlsglobe.org.

Cover Photo Credit: Miguel Sanchez/Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference

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