First Lady Margaret Kenyatta roots for mainstreaming of adolescent health in UHC programmes

GENEVA, Switzerland, 21 May 2019 (PSCU) – The health needs of young people must be at the core of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programmes for the interventions to be successful, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has said.

The First Lady said the inclusion of the health needs of adolescents in policy formulation would ensure they are not left behind in accessing healthcare services.

She noted that the continued lumping together of adolescents and youth with women and children by global and national health strategies makes many assumptions that fail to address the health needs of this critical segment of the world population.

“Not surprisingly, this has resulted in numerous urgent calls to address adolescents healthcare because while they have been perceived as healthy, they face considerable risks of adverse chronic health issues,” she said.

The First Lady spoke on Monday evening in Geneva, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the 72nd World Health Assembly at an event dubbed ‘Adolescent health – the Missing population in Universal Health Coverage (UHC)’. The event focused on putting the needs of adolescents at the centre of efforts to achieve UHC.

She said the inclusion of young people in the global health agenda would help in harnessing the demographic dividend and maximize the contribution of this important segment of human capital to global growth.

The First Lady expressed concern that available statistics showed higher rates of violence and injuries, addiction, depression and mental health issues among adolescents and the youth in general, an indication that their health needs required more attention.

“We are told that one out of six of the world’s population are adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years. Therefore, recognizing adolescents as key partners in the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets is critical,” the First Lady said.

She said one of the major concerns, especially on the African continent, is the new surge of illnesses facing young people as a result of non-communicable diseases and HIV.

“We must not accept to reverse the gains we have made in health. We must encourage young people to access health services.  Our young people’s priority is not ill-health or disease, it is jobs, relationships and their future,” the First Lady said.

She proposed the use of technology, social networks and peer-to-peer connections as a way of encouraging young people to prioritise their uptake of health services.

While adolescent health is important, the First Lady said it must go beyond focusing on disease or ill-health to include investments that enhance self-esteem, determination and resilience, especially among young women.

“In my experience, interacting with adolescents through the Pupils Reward Scheme (PURES), a mentorship program for children, I have learnt of the importance of listening,” the First Lady said.

In Kenya, the First Lady said, deliberate efforts have been made to prioritize activities that celebrate young people’s contribution to new ideas in technology that have seen groundbreaking discoveries using the internet, mobile telephony and other technologies for sustainable development.

“These are talents we must tap to remove barriers that hinder adolescent access to health services,” the First Lady said, adding that Kenya is making progress in advancing youth-led initiatives like Maisha Youth for the promotion of health for young people.

She informed the meeting that adolescents and young people form a key part of her work in Beyond Zero by building better synergies and integrating their voices in advocacy and education dialogue.

“My Beyond Zero Initiative has committed to promoting peer-to-peer learning programmes to develop a cohort of role models and trailblazers,” First Lady Margaret Kenyatta told the meeting.

Speakers at the event that was attended by Sports Cabinet Secretary Amb. Amina Mohamed agreed that in order to deliver on every adolescent’s right to health and achieve sustainable growth and development priorities, adolescent-focused actions must be at the centre of the UHC agenda.

They highlighted the need for a multi-sectoral approach to meeting the health needs of adolescents through UHC interventions.

Ms Helga Fogstad, the Executive Director of Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), discussed the centrality of multi-sectoral partnerships and meaningful youth engagement while UNICEF Chief of Health Stefan Swartling Peterson covered a topic on opportunities to advance adolescent health.

Ms Joy Phumaphi, the Co-Chair of UN Secretary General’s Independent Accountability Panel for Every Woman, Every Child, Every Adolescent initiative spoke on the importance of strong accountability to make UHC work for adolescents.