Globally, adolescents (age 10-19 years) make up 16% of the world’s population. But in some regions – notably sub-Saharan Africa – adolescents account for 23% of the population. This sizeable and important group has unique health needs that require targeted interventions and supportive health services.
Risk increasing behaviors – including tobacco, alcohol, and drug use – contribute to early death, disability, and illness. Both biological and social factors contribute to vulnerability in adolescence. The leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls globally is complications during pregnancy and childbirth. And social factors – including social pressure for early marriage, interpersonal violence, lack of education, and poverty – contribute to poor adolescent health outcomes. These include malnutrition, infectious diseases including HIV, and poor mental health.
A youth-led and multi-sectoral, coordinated response is crucial to improving adolescent health. Critical approaches include:
- Involve adolescents in the design, implementation, and monitoring of activities and services;
- Support civil society organizations and ministries of health to develop, modify, implement, and disseminate policies and guidelines that support best practices in adolescent health;
- Use different channels to reach adolescents, such as private sector providers, mobile outreach, social media and digital platforms, pharmacies and drug shops, and peer groups;
- Address provider bias and enrich providers understanding of adolescence;
- Integrate services to offer comprehensive quality care;
- Support the collection of data disaggregated by age and gender; and
- Address financial barriers to adolescent care-seeking.
An adolescent-responsive health system approach ensures that health services are accessible and relevant to adolescents while remaining integrated with service delivery at large. By facilitating partnerships with youth groups to design, implement, and monitor adolescent-friendly health services, adolescents can be empowered to acquire skills, achieve goals, and boost physical and emotional health and resiliency.
URC has addressed the unique vulnerabilities of adolescents throughout many of our projects. In Niger, URC worked to reduce the rate of child marriage under the Resilience and Economic Growth in the Sahel – Enhanced Resilience (REGIS-ER) Project. URC has supported orphans and vulnerable children impacted by HIV through our PEPFAR work in sub-Saharan Africa, and improved adolescent-friendly health services through change packages introduced under our global ASSIST Project.
The Health Evaluation and Applied Research Development (HEARD) Project uses implementation science and strategic partnerships with more than 35 diverse global organizations to improve the implementation of evidence-based practices, interventions, and policies. The HEARD Project conducted research to identify urban youth challenges and best practices for targeting this population with health interventions.
The Regional Health Integration to Enhance Services in North, Acholi (RHITES-N, Acholi) Activity focuses on strengthening the health system to increase access to and use of quality health services. Activity work with the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) partnership resulted in the proportion of adolescent girls experiencing sexual and other forms of gender-based violence decreasing from 49% at baseline to 19.5% and an HIV incidence rate well below the national rate.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for Health (BARMMHealth) Project in the Philippines bolsters Ministry of Health capacity to facilitate local health solutions in family planning, adolescent and youth reproductive health, and maternal and child health to support self-reliance and sustainability. In the first year of the project, 514 adolescent youth received information on responsible practice of sexuality, contraceptive options, and respect, 5,170 community health workers were provided with FP information, and services to address violence against women and children were created. That year, the project contributed to 67,390 new FP acceptors.