Today, August 12, is International Youth Day, a day to recommit to investing in young people — and that includes making sure the global community is meeting the particular needs of the next generation.
The statistics are clear: we have a lot more work to do. Around the world, pregnancy-related complications are a leading cause of death among teenage girls; and a third of new HIV/AIDS infections occur among 15- to 24-year-olds. If we are going to seriously address these epidemics, we’re going to have to do a lot more to prepare young people.
And that means arming young people with accurate information and access to the health care they need, no matter where they live.
In the U.S. we support this access through our affiliates’ health centers and peer education programs and advocacy campaigns that push our leaders to write better laws and policies. Through our sex education programs, Planned Parenthood reaches more than one million young people each year and receives an additional four million visits online each month.
In addition to this domestic work, Planned Parenthood works overseas to ensure that women, men, and young people in some of the world’s most neglected areas have access to the health care they need to control their bodies and their futures. Planned Parenthood Global®, our international division, partners with local advocates, medical service providers, and youth leaders in 10 focus countries to build sustainable networks and fight for more inclusive laws and policies.
As part of this work, we provide support to organizations in Africa and Latin America to implement the Planned Parenthood Global® Youth Peer Provider model. We recognize that in rural areas and urban slums information doesn’t mean much without access. Using the Youth Peer Provider model, our partners equip young people with training at local health centers to provide basic sex ed and contraceptive counseling to other young people.
They are able to do this because in every country where we support partners, birth control is available over the counter, without a prescription. When young clients have questions beyond the Youth Peer Provider’s training, they refer their peers back to the health center. Through this model, our partners have been able to greatly expand access to information and services for local youth.
Some of our newest and most exciting partnerships are with youth sports organizations. For example, we have partnered with girls’ soccer clubs in Kenya to train players as Youth Peer Providers and take advantage of team practices to also provide sex education. In communities where early marriage and pregnancy are common and often mean dropping out of school and retiring hopes of a meaningful career, the Youth Peer Provider model acts as a safety net.
These programs have underscored for us the importance of investing in this and future generations. Meeting young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs is not only strategic, it requires programs designed specifically for them and that meet them where they are.
This understanding helped drive the Obama Administration to develop its Youth in Development Policy, released last October, which aims to strengthen youth programming and participation and mainstream youth issues throughout U.S. foreign aid, to improve access to economic and social opportunities and enable young people to live healthy lives.
With nearly half of the world’s population under the age of 25, we are at a critical juncture to ensure policies and programs meet the needs of young people and build their capacity to contribute to creating more stable and prosperous communities. There are several key elements to the implementation of this policy that will determine how successfully it realizes its vision — namely, how well the focus on young people is integrated across U.S. government programs including HIV prevention and treatment and the U.S. international family planning program.
A real investment requires strong leadership to hold individual teams and programs accountable to the youth focus, including a strong youth coordinator, a sound monitoring and evaluation plan, collecting data on different age groups to measure success, and strong support to country missions implementing youth programs on the ground. As we approach the one-year anniversary of this policy, we call on Secretary John Kerry, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and ultimately President Obama to ensure we are on track to realizing the promise this policy holds — helping to create the healthiest generation.
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