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Health

Adolescent Health

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Challenges

Owing to investments in early childhood health, nutrition, and education and delays in childbearing, today’s adolescents (10-19 years) are generally healthier than previous generations. Still, estimated 1.3 million adolescent die prematurely each year, mostly from preventable or treatable causes. In addition to intentional and unintentional injuries, including road traffic injuries, suicides, and violence, common childhood diseases, such as diarrhea and pneumonia are among top causes of adolescent deaths globally. An estimated 2.1 million adolescents are currently living with HIV, and deaths due to AIDS have tripled among adolescents since 2000.

Adolescence represents also a period of vulnerability for mental health, with many mental health disorders having their onset in adolescence. Furthermore, many health related behaviors that persist throughout the life course, such as tobacco, alcohol and illicit substance use, diet, and physical activity are often adapted during adolescence.   

Every year 16 million girls aged 15-19 and two million girls under age 15 become pregnant. Though adolescent girls account for approximately 11% of all births worldwide, they bear 23% of the pregnancy and childbirth -related burden of disease (disability-adjusted life years). Early pregnancies, often accompanied by poor nutritional status of the young mother, pose a significant risk to both maternal and child survival, and they also effect on girls’ opportunities to education and employment, thus reinforcing the vicious cycle of poverty and inequity. The most significant contributor to adolescent pregnancies is child marriage; around 90% of adolescent pregnancies take place in a marriage or union.  

Adolescence is a time of rapid changes. Biological, emotional and cognitive development, transformation of interests and behaviors, and transition of social roles have far-reaching consequences not only for adolescents themselves, but for the generations to come. Increased investments in adolescent health and development are crucial to generate positive results for adolescents, and also break intergenerational cycles of poor health, poverty and discrimination.

Solutions

Adolescents are often neglected in health and social policies, and they experience many barriers in accessing health services and information. The Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing suggests to adapt a broader concept of adolescent health that, in addition to sexual and reproductive health, includes HIV, infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies, injury and violence, NCDs and its risk factors as well as mental health and substance misuse. Addressing these requires improved health and social services that better respond to adolescents’ health needs that often vary by age, adolescent capacities, sex/gender identity and contexts in which adolescents grow and develop. Given that adolescent health is often determined by factors beyond the realm of the health section, e.g. education, employment, family income and social networks, strategies should be built on multisector action.  

To effectively address poor health outcomes, in particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, better data, disaggregated by age (10-14, 15-19 years) and sex, is needed to inform policies and programmes. However, data for adolescents is scattered, and monitoring frameworks, both on national and global level, do not comprehensively collect important data. Thus, very little is known about marginalized groups, such as out-of-school or out-of-home adolescents, as well as younger adolescents aged 10-14 years. Latest global sex- and age-disaggregated data and other resources are available at UNICEF Data.

Working with adolescents presents a unique opportunity that allows adolescents to hold stakeholders accountable and helps to build engagement between adolescents and the state, and thus, eventually improve the quality of services provided to adolescents. Through civil society movements, adolescents can become strong voices to counter harmful industries including tobacco and alcohols, and involving adolescents in the design and monitoring of programmes can stimulate new and creative ways of programming.

© UNICEF/UN016453/Singh

Children playing volleyball during sports session at government primary school in Aurangabad.

Global Partnerships and Initiatives                                           

Within the Strategy for Health 2016-2030, UNICEF extends its programme focus to adolescence and commits to address key adolescent health issues by advocating for adolescents’ right to health; influencing government policies; strengthening service delivery; and empowering communities, including adolescents. Adolescent health is also one of priorities of the UNICEF Gender Action Plan 2014-2017 which outlines four strongly interlinked targets: gender-responsive adolescent health; girls’ secondary education; child marriage; and gender-based violence in emergencies.

UNICEF is committed to mobilize the global health community around adolescents health issues and support comprehensive national adolescent health plans aligned with the SDGs and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health 2016-2030 (EWEC 2.0) including its Operational Framework.   


 

 

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