For much of this century, adolescence has been viewed as a time of storm and stress, the inevitability of psychological and emotional turmoil.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and we should shift away from that perception. Twenty years ago, UNICEF Moldova supported the creation of youth friendly services such as the Neovita Youth Friendly Health Center. Today, this has expanded to a network of 41 active youth friendly centers across the country.
Adolescent health is core to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG Target 3.8 on universal health coverage, which requires keeping adolescents informed and healthy, so they can survive and thrive both now and in adulthood, an issue clearly articulated in the United Nations Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. However, to fulfil the promises of the SDGs, more needs to be done, more support and commitment are required to deliver on these promises for adolescents, especially those most at risk of being left behind. Globally, 1.1 million adolescents are dying each year from preventable causes. Millions more are suffering abuse, injury and ill health - or generally failing to reach their potential. This is further exacerbated in times of crisis, as with COVID-19, armed conflict and natural disasters, where health services for youth are needed more than ever.
We must remember that the 10-19 age group is a unique window of opportunity in a person's life for longer term well-being, health and development. In failing adolescents, the whole of society is losing out. And we jeopardize efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals nationally and globally.
At UNICEF we believe that young people can and should be supported to make it through their adolescent years without experiencing great trauma, or getting into serious trouble, or having conflicts with adults and peers. We believe that this should be the period for effective and positive self-realization, and the foundation of healthy and constructive life skills.
There is so much research in brain science that speaks of the adolescent brain and the many changes that they go through as they navigate this unique period in their lives. But these are all changes that, now that we’ve understood them, should be guided and supported, and not just tolerated.
One avenue that is critical in this regard is in supporting the mental health and well-being of adolescents and youth. This should be a standard part of maneuvering through adolescence, and indeed becomes critical in the face of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war. Young people should not have to be alone when facing such difficult circumstances.
And we continue to explore and support innovative interventions that improve access of the most disadvantaged adolescent boys and girls to Youth Friendly Health Services. This year, UNICEF and its partners established a 24/7 help line that allows adolescents from rural areas and refugee adolescents to access information and mental health counselling services provided by a trained team of operators, psychologists and health professionals.
There is more that we can and should all be doing, if only to build on the rich foundation and successes that have been achieved so far.
I hope and trust that, together, we can make the lasting changes that all adolescents and youth in Moldova need.