Youth Lead! International Youth Day and Transforming Health

Youth Lead! International Youth Day and Transforming Health

{Photo credit: LMS Haiti/MSH}Photo credit: LMS Haiti/MSH

Today, as we celebrate International Youth Day and the theme of “Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward,” we are reminded of difficult situations millions of young people experience every day—and of the power young people have to create change in their lives when they connect with their peers.

Adolescents and young men and women need access to quality, affordable reproductive health services. In the developing world, 52 million never-married women, aged 15-24, are sexually active and in need of reproductive health and HIV prevention services and information. Yet, adolescent girls often face greater barriers than adult women in accessing them. In the sub-Saharan Africa region, only 21 percent of married adolescents are using a modern contraceptive method; and the adolescent birth rate in the region is four times the rate in Europe and Central Asia. In the Latin America region, teenagers have doubled their proportion of the fertility rate from 8.5 percent in 1955 to 14.3 percent in 2005, despite a steady decline in overall fertility numbers.

Youth Lead on HIV prevention: Cité Soleil, Haiti

In Haiti, the need for reproductive health and HIV prevention services is particularly evident in Cité Soleil, the country’s largest slum, where conditions are precarious for youth. Realizing this, young resident Jean Jonas Jocelyn decided one year to mark World AIDS Day in Cité Soleil schools with activities around the theme HIV and AIDS.

Having learned how to plan ahead through his participation in a youth-oriented Leadership Development Program, funded by USAID through the Leadership, Management and Sustainability Program in Haiti (LMS/Haiti), led by MSH, he secured the support of three local organizations and peers to participate in the activity at school. He emphasized the critical need to educate youth on HIV and AIDS, and the group committed to making these events happen—despite the protests going on around them.

His planning was successful. On December 1st that year, Jean and his volunteer team visited 10 schools in Cité Soleil, educating 1,455 young people on HIV prevention and distributing 6,320 condoms. According to Nazaire Milio, headmaster of one school, the outreach was “a commendable initiative in a situation like this, where young people from the community are advising other young people within the community on the prevention of HIV and AIDS.”

Jean is just one example of nearly two dozen young people in Cité Soleil who applied the skills they learned through MSH’s youth-oriented Leadership Development Program to bring positive changes to their community. One local partner organization involved in this leadership work targeted youth communities through rap music, writing a song in Haitian Créole on the importance of youth leadership for HIV prevention, emphasizing that “a group of youth working together can change the world!”

In countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, and DRC, MSH takes an integrated approach to establishing strong, sustainable health systems which improve and expand access to quality health services for youth and engage them as leaders, advocates, and peer-educators in the health sector to encourage local capacity building shared decision making power, and social accountability for health. Through the Salud Mesoamérica 2015 Initiative, MSH has started support to countries in the Central America region to engage participation of young people and civil society in the identification, development and management of programs and services that affect them.

Moving Forward: Youth Leadership Workshop

In a continued commitment to developing young leaders, MSH will be conducting a youth leadership workshop at the upcoming International Conference on Family Planning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 12-15, 2013. In an open forum, young leaders will have the opportunity to discuss principles of leadership and how they can connect with peers to exercise their reproductive rights and change their lives. As youth take on tough challenges in public health, we can all be inspired by their commitment to lead, advocate, and educate, reaching some of the most vulnerable segments of the population and transforming lives.

Meredith Klein is a project officer at MSH. Fabio Castaño is the global technical lead on family planning and reproductive health at MSH.

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