This copy was taken from an article originally published on Youth Ki Awaaz (YKA) and authored by Smita Saha, VP of HR for AstraZeneca Pharma India Limited.
“I would like to think that my story, though similar to that of other adolescents, differs in more than one way. When I was growing up, I lived in the Mongolpuri area, a locality in New Delhi. My friends and I often indulged in bad company; perhaps hoping to find a distraction from our personal problems. We did not talk about our problems to anyone, either at home with the family, or at school with our friends. School and education were of little importance to us, and I spent most of my time roaming the streets, or hanging around aimlessly in the parks. My biggest challenge was that I had several problems, and no solutions.
My initial foray into the Young Health Programme (YHP) was simply to learn how to use a computer. After meeting with the YHP staff, however, I learned more about the objectives of the initiative. Soon after, I was introduced to the Peer Educator training programme at YHP, one that focused majorly on drug and substance abuse amongst the youth. We were told that this was one of the most challenging issues plaguing adolescents of our generation. We also learned about personal hygiene and reproductive health as part of the training. What remains a fond memory is that I was given an opportunity to participate in street plays for the first time, and also taught how to speak in front of an audience. On completion of our training, we learned that each one of us was now a Peer Educator and we were encouraged to share our learnings with family, friends, and the community at large. Whether the issue was about cancer, tuberculosis or reproductive health, I passed on my learnings to both family and friends. This gave me a feeling of empowerment, and more importantly, gave me a chance to give back to a programme that had taught me so much. Since the last 4 years, YHP has been instrumental in changing my life; it helped me complete my education, and played a role in ensuring that voices of the youth in this country are heard.”- Suraj Kashap, Programme Officer – YHP
Guiding youth to a more productive future
Suraj is not the only Peer Educator whose life has been changed by the YHP. AstraZeneca’s YHP supports the need to make a meaningful difference to adolescents in India, through a model designed for capacity building, building community understanding and improving awareness about key adolescent health issues. YHP focuses on the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) amongst young people, termed an “invisible epidemic” by the World Health Organization. Statistics have shown that adolescents (aged 10-19) constitute about 21% of India’s population, necessitating programmes that focus on the health and well-being of this large, yet very vulnerable population.Further, evidence suggests that more than 33% of the disease burden and almost 60% of premature deaths among adults can be associated with behaviour that began or occurred during adolescence. 
The programme partners include Johns Hopkins, Bloomberg School of Public Health and Plan India. The YHP participates in targeted public health platforms, and partners with NGOs to advocate for the prioritization of adolescent health and NCD prevention in the larger community. A key strategy in the success of the 2010-2015 model (phase 1 and 2) has been engaging young people themselves as active agents of change in their own communities. Hence, youth who are involved in the programme are not merely passive recipients benefiting from the project, but are directly involved in the implementation of the programme’s outreach activities. Further, the YHP model entails the flexibility to work with local partners to identify NCD risk behaviours of young people in local communities and subsequently establishes tailored programmes to cater to their health needs.
Research and advocacy play a big role in YHP’s strategy. The NGO teams work with marginalized communities and experienced third parties to build sustainable, long term capabilities to achieve their broader objective of NCD prevention. This involves creating Community Stakeholder Groups to focus on identifying and addressing community concerns and advocating their views to the local government.
The YHP has also aided in setting up Health Information Centres (HICs), that are regarded as important community-based resource centres for engaging youth and sharing knowledge with them. Advocacy has led to significant advancements in the YHP scope, enabling workers to achieve various positive outcomes, of which the allocation of specific ‘adolescent clinic times’ at local health facilities has been noteworthy. Additionally, based on learnings from global YHPs, YHP India is working towards major tasks with increasing success, such as developing policy briefs, training young people to become youth advocates of the programme and representing its goals at prestigious health forums.
In this year’s Budget, the Government proposed to increase public health spending to 2.5 per cent of India’s GDP, though this still significantly lags behind the WHO-recommended spending of 5 per cent of GDP on health. The National Health Policy (NHP) 2017, however, acknowledges that more needs to be done in various subdivisions in health, among which adolescent health has also been identified. The NHP states that corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes important to leverage for filling health infrastructure gaps in public health facilities across the country. It goes on to say that the private sector could use its CSR platform to play an active role in awareness generation through campaigns on adolescent health. The AstraZeneca YHP is an example of this in action.
One in every five persons in the country is an adolescent, aged from 10 – 19 years, and this segment of our population is the future wealth of our nation. Investing in the health of adolescents is critical for achieving our economic development goals. It is the responsibility of the government, along with private stakeholders, financial institutions and healthcare providers to ensure that this valuable segment of our society has access to high quality healthcare.