UNICEF considers adolescents to be children and young adults aged 10 to 19; in Belize, about 20% of the population falls into this age group, yet many are underserved by our health services and programmes.
The 2017 Mortality Report identifies homicides and suicides as leading causes of death among adolescents in Belize.
Belize City is among the 10 most crime ridden urban spaces in the globe, with police reporting that 82 percent of all homicides in this city are gang related. Belizean teens are at risk from the pervasive violence when they travel to and from school, frequent neighborhood shops, try to participate in sports, or spend time with friends.
Exposure to such hostile environments leads to toxic stress and other mental health conditions that can increase the rate of suicides, intentional and unintentional self-inflicted injuries.
Between 2014 and 2016, the attempted suicide rate among adolescents 15-19 increased annually by 39 percent . Between 2008 and 2017, the number of adolescents aged 10-19 who attempted suicide represented over one third (36 percent ) of attempted suicides among all age groups.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners indicate that the three leading causes for admission of adolescents to mental health clinics
- disorders due to psychoactive substances use
- attempted suicide
- mental health disorders due to anxiety and stress-related disorders.
As elsewhere in the region, road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and disability for males aged 15-19. Social norms about masculinity drive many risky behaviours: over half (54 percent ) of Belize’s boys aged 15-19 report consuming alcohol. Almost 20 percent had their first drink before they were 15, often with their parent or other care-giving adult’s permission and/or encouragement. 16 percent of Belizean boys report smoking tobacco; 12 percent started smoking before they were 15.
Despite of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to provide contraception, adolescent usage is the lowest among Belizean women, and they have the highest unmet need for family planning: 11 percent of Belize’s adolescent girls aged 15-19 years have had a baby.
Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school, live in poor housing conditions, and be unemployed or in low-paid employment; their children are more likely to live in poverty, become involved in crime, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
In 2017, 96 percent of those diagnosed with an STI in Belize were between 15-19 years old. Adolescents continue to face barriers when trying to get information on health and reproductive services; in particular, there is a lack of education programmes and youth friendly services.
Although Belize supports the global health agenda, it lacks a comprehensive plan with the integration of all government, non-government and civil society organizations identifying and addressing critical health and lifestyle issues affecting adolescents. Services and responses are fragmented and there is no one body responsible for the coordination, monitoring and evaluation of these plans
UNICEF’s goal is to end preventable adolescent deaths and promote health and development in adolescents in Belize.
Belize is committed to the “Every Woman, Every Child, Every Adolescent Strategy” (EWECEA) and is among the first countries to adopt the Accelerated Action for Health for Adolescents (AA-HA!).
This framework encourages holistic health policies for adolescents to achieve good sexual and reproductive health, prevent injuries and violence, mental health disorders, substance abuse, (often a co-factor of mental health problems, non-communicable diseases (NCDs)) and to promote physical activities and healthy lifestyles.
Belize’s Adolescent Health -Technical Working Group is developing the country’s first adolescent health national strategic plan through coordination between the MOH, Ministry of Education including the Department of Youth Service, Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO/PAHO, Belize Family Life Association (BFLA) and adolescent representatives.
Young people surveyed for the plan identified poverty, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, abuse, sexuality education, bullying, and mental health issues-- including suicide prevention- as their top priorities.
Service providers are also zeroing in on adolescent pregnancy, mental health, socioeconomic conditions, violence and injuries, environmental structure in health and education, obesity and NCDs.
Recognizing the need for age/sex disaggregated data on adolescents, UNICEF Belize provided technical assistance to Ministry of Health in completing a comprehensive assessment of available data in Belize resulted in a comprehensive situational analysis (SitAn) of adolescent boys and girls, with adolescent health priorities identified for each district of Belize.
Psychosocial assessments are included in the norms and standards, which will ensure immediate follow-up with at-risk adolescents for improved support for mental health. In 2019, the Ministry of Health will pilot the delivery and evaluate the effectiveness of routine adolescent health check-ups.
Working together with our partners, UNICEF goals in Belize are to end preventable deaths among adolescents, and to promote their health and development by supporting accelerated multi-sectoral mobilization and the national framework for adolescent health.