Monday, 28 April 2008

Conference reveals the who, what, when, why and how of adolescent health programs

International representatives from World Health Organization, World Bank, Youth Coalition, and United Nations Population Fund Agency spoke on the urgent need to promote adolescent health and development during the opening ceremony of the ‘Youth Deliver the Future’ in Abuja, Nigeria yesterday.

Jane Ferguson of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, reflected on the evolution of adolescent health over the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, most research was focused on the why of adolescent health—on why the global policies should reflect adolescent issues such as HIV/AIDS and too-early pregnancy among youth.

‘While regrettably [the why] is still needed, particularly for convincing national level policy makers, people are much more aware of the need to focus on adolescents,” said Ferguson. She cited the MDG indicators on HIV and reproductive health as areas that provide the world with vision and a sense of urgency for adolescent issues.

For the who aspect, the conference will focus on the different groups of adolescents around the world, such as girls and boys, young and older adolescents, married adolescents, and adolescents who are living in particularly vulnerable circumstances. “This is good because programmatically, it is very important to be as specific as possible about what one does differently [for these groups],” said Ferguson.

The conference also provides abundant attention to what needs to be done for adolescents. Some sessions would be on overall education, sex education through school and mass media. Others would be focusing on models of health service delivery tailored to meet adolescents’ needs, as well as programs to support parents of adolescents.

Perhaps the most significant in the conference are the increasing efforts to assess the when and the where of adolescent programs, in order to assess the impact of programs on adolescents’ attitudes and behaviours.

Ferguson’s words: “Unless we can be clear about the results of programming for adolescents, as well as the costs of these programmes, we will not be able to persuade the decision makers to allocate the investments needed for sustained programming.”

She concluded by saying that to get adolescent health on the global agenda we will not only have to be able to make a compelling case, but to be able to demonstrate how adolescent health programs are “do-able.”

“We are confident that the discussions over the next days will clarify the challenges we face in improving policies and programmes for adolescent health and development in countries, and persuading others to do this now,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson promised that the John Hopkins’ ‘Youth Deliver the Future’ conference would move away from the why and focus more on the who, the what, the where, the when, and the how of adolescent health.

By Amanda Hale

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