By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Decades of neglect and chronic underinvestment have had serious detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of adolescents aged 10–24 years, according to a major new Lancet Commission on adolescent health and wellbeing.
“Given the burgeoning number of young people in Pakistan, both boys and girls, it is imperative that they play an active role in national development, supported by the requisite freedoms, rights and access to education and empowerment. Only by fully engaging and supporting our youth can Pakistan achieve its full potential,” Professor Bhutta reckoned.
The report says that two-thirds of young people are growing up in countries where preventable and treatable health problems like HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy, unsafe sex, depression, injury, and violence remain a daily threat to their health, wellbeing and life chances.
Adolescent health and wellbeing is also a key driver of a wide range of the Sustainable Development Goals on health, nutrition, education, gender, equality and food security, and the costs of inaction are enormous, warn the authors.
“This generation of young people can transform all our futures. There is no more pressing task in global health than ensuring they have the resources to do so. This means it will be crucial to invest urgently in their health, education, livelihoods, and participation,” the Commission’s lead author Professor George Patton, University of Melbourne, Australia, noted.
“Puberty triggers a cascading process of brain development and emotional change that continues through to the mid-20s. It brings a different and more intense engagement with the world beyond an adolescent’s immediate family. These processes shape an individual’s identity and the capabilities he/she takes forward into later life. It profoundly shapes health and wellbeing across the life-course,” Professor Patto explained.
Although global health efforts have been successful in improving the health of children under 5 in the past few decades, this has not been matched by a similar response in older age groups.
The IHME analysis reveals that HIV/AIDS, road traffic accidents, and drowning caused a quarter of deaths in 10–14 year olds globally in 2013, with diarrhoeal and intestinal infectious diseases, lower respiratory infections, and malaria contributing to a further 21 per cent of deaths.
Road traffic accidents (14.2 per cent and 15.6 per cent), self-harm (8.4 per cent and 9.3 per cent), and violence (5.5 per cent and 6.6 per cent) are the leading causes of death for 15–19 year olds and 20–24 years olds respectively.
Digital media and new technologies offer remarkable opportunities to engage and empower young people to drive change. There is also a pressing need to ensure that all young people have opportunities and access to universal health coverage regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, and marital and socioeconomic status, particularly the marginalised.
“Young people are the world’s greatest untapped resource,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, writing in a linked comment, remarked.
The Commission authors made several recommendations to improve prospects for adolescent health and wellbeing echoing those of The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescent’s Health launched in September, 2015, leading with the urgent need to expand access to free secondary education; get serious about the laws that empower and protect adolescents such as guaranteeing 18 years as the minimum age for marriage; and continue gathering better evidence for action particularly around mental health and violence.
Other recommendations included collecting and reporting on a minimum set of priority indicators for adolescent health reflecting the burden of disease and risk factors, and for robust, transparent governance and accountability for adolescent health.