May 2014

World Health Organization Touts “Second Chance” for Adolescent Health

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“A second chance in the second decade,” that is the theme of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s new report urging for greater prioritization and political action around adolescent health.

While adolescents and young people have been key targets for many emerging public health agendas, WHO points out that concern about adolescent health has not successfully translated into action.

“Now is the moment to ensure that adolescents receive the attention they need and deserve in efforts to improve public health across the life-course,” the report states.

“We need to take advantage of the groundswell of concern and sense of urgency about adolescent health that has been building, for reasons of equity and human rights, public health and social and economic development—for the present and the future.”

According to the report, adolescence is the time when we cultivate and learn the behaviors that will be sustained throughout our lifetime. Therefore, it is imperative that we provide quality health education, outreach, and guidance to point young people down a path toward long and healthy lifetimes.

This is especially true when it comes to improving HIV outcomes.

HIV is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. While maternal and child HIV mortality rates are falling around the world, according to the report adolescent HIV deaths are on the rise, particularly throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

“There is good evidence on the poor quality of, and retention in, services for adolescents indicating the need for improved service delivery,” the report states. “Countries need to sustain improvements in child health by investing in the health of adolescents.” 

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) recognizes the treatment gap among adolescents and weaves adolescent programs throughout our country programs.

In Zambia, EGPAF supports the Tisamala Teen Mentors Program, which counsels teenagers on how to adhere to their antiretroviral medications, have healthy relationships, and disclose their status.

Bwalanda Chibesa, a 22-year-old law student and mentor for Tisamala, spoke movingly about her experiences with the program during this year’s International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA).

"Without the support and training I have received in that program, things would have been very different for me," she said at the conference.

"Now I am living a happy and healthy life. I was given the confidence and knowledge that I can live a long, healthy life. I never thought I would have a boyfriend or get married. And today I can say, I have a boyfriend and I have disclosed my HIV status to him."

Bwalanda represents one of the many adolescents impacted by EGPAF-supported psychosocial support groups, like Tisamala Teens.

EGPAF joins WHO in calling for greater prioritization and urgency around teens and adolescents adherence and prevention of HIV in the post-2015 global health agenda.

We will only be able to achieve a generation free of HIV/AIDS, when we prioritize the health of young people around the world.

Click here to learn more about EGPAF’s adolescent support programs.