Ensuring Equity for Adolescents at UN General Assembly


Liam Sollis

Last week I attended the UN General Assembly in New York on behalf of the Young Health Programme (YHP). Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, governments, the private sector and civil society have been working hard to develop plans to reduce ill-health and poverty, address inequalities and tackle climate change by 2030. This year’s UN General Assembly marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the 17 Global Goals and was a chance to reflect on global progress made and debate how best to accelerate development.

As with previous years the YHP was there to engage in these discussions and reinforce our belief that the largest adolescent population in history (1.2 billion 10-19 years old worldwide) presents us with an incredible opportunity to drive these goals forward. However, unless we prioritise their health and wellbeing we risk wasting their great potential and with it the chance to benefit from their skills, energy and entrepreneurialism.

Indeed all too many of the discussions in New York painted a bleak picture of our potential future. Not least the global refugee crisis and the large number of people, often children and adolescents, without access to healthcare and support.

These are all complex issues that will require significant partnership and collaboration. While the resolution will not be straightforward, there is still great cause for optimism. Global policy makers are prioritising and focussing their efforts against the SDG’s, with an explicit focus and an increased understanding of the importance of adolescent health within this dialogue. This is where we turned our focus while in New York, bringing together NCD Child, Plan International and UNICEF at an event entitled The Global Strategy: Ensuring Equity for Adolescents.

The event was an opportunity to discuss the unique health needs faced by today’s adolescents and strategies to ensure no young person is left behind. The participants were encouraged to consider concrete approaches to advancing adolescent health priorities ahead of the 2018 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs; particularly focussing on the UN’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health.

It was great to see Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health at UNICEF and Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Head of the WHO’s Global coordination Mechanism on NCDs both emphasise the importance of providing supportive environments for young people as part of attempts to prevent NCD risk behaviours among young people; a key focus of the YHP (and a conclusion in our WAVE research study).

Coming out of UNGA and this event, we saw a focus on improved adolescent health and specifically around NCD prevention. While we celebrate this we know that work on preventing NCDs - whether in health centres, in schools, or in communities (as with the YHP programmes) - will only be sustainable and effective if we also build a strong policy and regulatory foundation. To this end, we need to continue to work with national governments to ensure they support young people to live healthy lives and participate actively in their communities.

Our hope, through the YHP and the work of our partners and other organisations, is that we continue to raise the profile of adolescent health and NCD prevention so that the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents are given the chance to not just survive but to thrive in the new sustainable development era.

Giving youth a voice

The UN General Assembly followed the #Lancet Youth twitter chat, a global online dialogue held on September 15th that engaged participants in a lively discussion with Lancet Commissioners on the issue of adolescent health.

The YHP promoted the Lancet Youth Chat in partnership with NCD Child, the University of Melbourne and Plan International as part of our commitment to give youth a voice and help shape the healthcare agenda. During the Chat, Peterson and Mikkelson were followed by a panel of impressive youth advocates who called for progress on adolescent health to be accelerated and for governments to be held accountable for their commitments to adolescents by adolescents.