Investing in Adolescent Health – the Future is Now

PMNCH at the International Association for Adolescent Health – 11th World Congress

On 27 October more than 1,100 delegates including young people came together in New Delhi, India for the International Association for Adolescent Health – 11th World Congress hosted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India along with MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child (MAMTA) and Consortium Partners.

India has the world's largest population of adolescents and as such provided a relevant backdrop to the 11th World Congress, which served as a major milestone event for adolescent health and wellbeing. The Congress combined clinical and public health perspectives and presented new approaches and best practices that can contribute to accelerated action for adolescent health and rights, both globally and with specific reference to India and the sub-region.

Gogontlejang Phaladi, PMNCH Adolescent and Youth Constituency Board Chair at youth pre-conference

The Youth pre-conference: Building capacity for youth, by youth

The Partnership supported a range of events throughout the conference including the youth pre-conference on 26 October. Adolescent and Youth constituency (AYC) members of the Partnership and YP Foundation, served as lead partners on the youth engagement committee, organising the youth pre-conference, a one-day event focused on building the capacity of the 125 youth delegates in health and human rights. Gogontlejang Phaladi, AY Constituency Board Chair presented the ‘Advocating for Change for Adolescents!’ toolkit as an example of meaningful youth engagement in driving youth-led advocacy at the country level.

Inaugural ceremony: Setting the stage

The congress was inaugurated by Ms Preeti Sudan, Secretary of Health and Family Welfare and PMNCH Board Co-Chair. Along with other keynote speakers, Ms Sudan helped set the stage for the coming days with an outline of some of the central messages on the evidence for adolescent health and wellbeing including:

“Let’s ask ourselves the most important question at gatherings like these- how do we move the conversation from these cool air-conditioned rooms and ensure they translate into impact on the ground? Dialogue on mapping the plan is always important but we should speak beyond rhetoric limited to conference rooms. We each have to make a decision daily that we will play our roles in safeguarding a better future for our adolescents."

Gogontlejang Phaladi,
PMNCH AY Constituency Board Chair
Watch the full speech

  • Adolescents are a diverse group of people, all experiencing numerous life changes—physical, mental, emotional and social—that will affect their health and well-being for the rest of their lives.
  • Adolescence is a gateway for improved adult health outcomes -- its impact on newborn, child and maternal health and also that it is the life stage for preventive interventions for issues like mental health and non-communicable diseases. 
  • Adolescent health and well-being are not driven only one sector but underpinned by collaboration between health, education, water and sanitation, empowerment and social justice amongst others. A synergised multi-sectoral action was needed to make a difference.
  • Ownership and country leadership is critical to driving political and financial commitments for adolescent health and wellbeing to action
  • Meaningful youth engagement is a necessity to ensure design, implement, monitor and evaluate evidence-based adolescent health policies and programming

Ms Phaladi spoke in the opening plenary, providing a youth perspective on adolescent health and stressing the importance of adolescent health as Sustainable Development priority that needed to be tackled the right way from the start. She said, ‘If we can get a child a can of soda, we can get them the adequate health information and services they need to live prosperous lives.” Find link to video of speech under key quote.

Meaningfully engaging youth: recommendations from AA-HA!

The AA-HA! symposium, led by WHO with UNICEF, UNFPA, UNESCO, PMNCH, and World Bank, including members of the Adolescent and Youth Constituency, presented action on adolescent health within national governments, research institutions, academia and civil society organizations as an integral part of achieving the SDGs. The guidance was launched in May 2017 and was developed with the active participation of UN agencies, civil society organizations, academics, governments and most importantly, young people themselves.

YP Foundation representative presenting copies of India-adapted toolkit

The dynamic ‘Ted-talk’ style presentations featured AA-HA! recommendations. Anshu Mohan, a Senior Technical Officer at the Partnership, emphasized the importance of meaningful youth engagement and presented specific examples of the investments PMNCH has made to the Adolescent and Youth Constituency on empowerment, movement building and advocacy.

AY Constituency member Gogontlejang Phaladi shared her experiences with the development of the AA-HA! at global and regional levels, and key recommendations for improving meaningful youth engagement in the roll-out of AA-HA! at the country level. Finally, Souvik Pyne from YP Foundation shared his experiences on accountability in India through audits of sexual and reproductive health services by young people and consultations with young people at the state level. Other panelists presented experiences, and plans, in advancing adolescent health and wellbeing through an intersectoral approach and costed plans.

From global to national: ‘Advocating for change for Adolescents!’ makes its India debut

Delegates holding up Advocating for change for Adolescents!’ toolkit at launch event

The YP Foundation also hosted a national India launch of the ‘Advocating for change for Adolescents!’ toolkit, with the endorsement of the Government of India. Ms Esther Moraes spoke to the importance of providing a platform for young people to be meaningfully engaged in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of the RKSK national adolescent health program. Vandana Guruni, from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India, congratulated YP Foundation on the tremendous effort and committed to working with them to deliver on joint outcomes in the next year and beyond.

From recommendations to action: Transforming accountability for adolescents

Six recommendations to transform Accountability from the Independent Accountability Panel

The Independent Accountability Panel (IAP), hosted by the Partnership organised a symposium on the 2017 Report on Transformative Accountability for Adolescents. The event featured two members of the IAP, the Government of India, as well as other partners interested in following up on the AA-HA! Recommendations. Young leaders also responded to the Report’s recommendations and shared ideas of how these could translate to the national context. An interactive discussion followed with interventions highlighting how the term ‘accountability’ in public discourse is used, approaches to meaningfully engaging young people in accountability and the importance of encouraging stakeholders to not ‘cherry pick’ evidence but acknowledge the gaps even when they are not comfortable taking remedial action. The consensus was that the Report is a useful tool for partners to devise action on strengthening accountability for adolescents.

A call to action: Adolescents define their key priorities

‘Young Voices Count,’ a video showcasing 10-year olds from around the world and what they envision for the next ten years was a highlight of the last day of the conference. Youth delegates also presented a Youth Charter, defining eight priorities pertaining to adolescent health and wellbeing:

  • Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, including access to safe abortion;
  • Rights-based, age-affirming Comprehensive Sexuality Education;
  • Gender-based Violence;
  • Mental Health and Suicide;
  • Adolescents and young people in humanitarian settings;
  • Sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE)
  • HIV/AIDS; and
  • Non-communicable diseases.

The youth delegates made a call to action in some areas to decision makers and donors including enabling access to stigma-free services, implementing multi-component programs that promote healthy behaviours and integrating NCD prevention and treatment into primary health programs through a lifecycle approach.

Working in partnership for adolescents

Youth delegates: PMNCH AYC and Lancet Youth commission members

The Partnership hosted a series of bilateral meetings with partners such as the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine and the India RMNCAH coalition partners including the Government of India. Discussions centred on strategic opportunities to build stronger partnerships and collectively strengthen adolescent and youth engagement in research, financing and decision making.