Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Boosting support for "youth-friendly" health services in communities - a recipe for success

9 February 2009

A group of young people sit near a wood

To grow into healthy adults, young people need access to sexual and reproductive health services that meet their particular needs for prevention, counselling, treatment and care. Unfortunately, however, in many instances these needs are not being met. Even where "youth-friendly" services exist, this alone is not enough to substantially increase the number of young people who use the services.

WHO's Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH) recently completed a review of how interventions in the community can help stimulate demand and community support for sexual and reproductive health services for young people.

The review has two parts. The first looks at how activities in schools and communities, such as peer education, life skills education, and in the media, can help generate demand among young people for health services. The second part of the review looks at the importance of gaining the support of the wider community, so that young people are able to seek care, especially in areas where issues such as pre-marital sex are very sensitive.

The review unearthed the potential for setting up links or referral systems between schools, community organizations or pharmacists and health care providers. It also showed the benefits of incorporating sexual and reproductive health education into a broader "life-skills" approach, to encourage young people to become more autonomous and begin making decisions in their own right.

It also highlighted the importance of involving parents and other key decision makers in young people's lives. In many places, having the support of individuals such as community leaders or head teachers is crucial. Organizing activities on an ongoing basis to improve community awareness of young people’s needs is critical to creating an environment where young people feel able to take advantage of available services.

The review provides information on what works, and it aims to guide national policy-makers, programme planners and donors in deciding how to allocate limited budgets to activities which are going to be most effective. Young people are most likely to use youth-friendly services in communities which demonstrate most awareness and approval.

As a next step, the Department will develop guidance materials and tools to assist national programme managers in implementing the effective interventions identified.