Ageism is an insidious and often an unaddressed issue in health, human rights, and development, and has bearings on both older and younger populations around the world.
For young people, ageism can mean that their voices are ignored. Even when asked to provide inputs to policies, programmes and projects that affect them, young people’s opinions are often not taken seriously. This is particularly true when it comes to adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, because of persistent denial of adolescents as sexual beings.
WHO has been striving to combat ageism and involve young people in its work as partners, not merely as recipients. Over the past decade, WHO has built strong engagement with young people in a range of programmes and initiatives.
Working together for a brighter future
Twenty-five years ago, a handful of WHO departments were working on adolescent health. Today, over 15 departments are doing so, engaging and working with adolescents in designing and promoting solutions to address global health issues that affect them.
This includes efforts to involve adolescents and young people in addressing mental health, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. More recently it has expanded to promoting menstrual health and environmental health, preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and promoting self-care to empower adolescents to take charge of their health.
Young people work alongside the secretariat of the Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, involving the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network and the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations. The Global Tuberculosis (TB) Programme has established a youth movement to mobilize an active adolescent constituency and accelerate achievement of the targets of the WHO End TB Strategy.
In January 2022, WHO published the first report on the Organization’s work on adolescent health, Working for a brighter, healthier future.
The report covers a range of adolescent health issues and approaches: setting research priorities; supporting developing norms and standards; advocating for attention and investment; supporting country-level action, and building capacity for meaningful engagement in all these. It showcases adolescent-adult partnerships which are critical for knowledge generation and translation, as well as efforts to stimulate and support movements of and by adolescents and young people.
Meaningful adolescent and youth engagement
WHO is faithful to the Global Consensus Statement on Meaningful Adolescent and Youth Engagement. These principles and practices cocreated with organizations working with and led by adolescents and young people.
There were four young persons from around the world on the Working for a brighter, healthier future writing team, shaping the report and sharing their perspectives. These young writers were supported, listened to, acknowledged and compensated for their inputs.
“I have witnessed great advancement in the adolescent health field, especially on meaningful participation of young people. It makes me hopeful about the future, and I think we will witness more changes,” said Ali Ihsan Nergiz, a medical student and youth advocate from Turkey.
Joshua Tregale, a youth activist from the United Kingdom shared, “A key hallmark of the World Health Organization’s adolescent health work has been youth engagement and participation. This report has been no different, and the commitment to not only engage with young people but listen to them and respect them has been clear. The adolescent health work of WHO is clearly driven by adolescents’ needs and inputs”.
As part of the United Nations-wide efforts, WHO will continue to strengthen its contribution to the UN Youth Strategy by:
partnering with youth organizations
strengthening youth engagement in normative and agenda setting work
engaging youth in intergovernmental forums
leveraging digital solutions for outreach
amplifying and showcasing contributions of youth to shaping policies.
Doing more and doing better to make adolescent well-being a priority
The first WHO Youth Council has been established to take these commitments to a higher level. The Council will provide advice to the Organization on health and development issues that affect young people, within a comprehensive and inclusive youth engagement strategy.
WHO’s 2017 Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents (AA-HA!): guidance to support country implementation was instrumental in engaging young people in policy dialogues, and as key stakeholders in developing national adolescent health strategies. In 2022, young people are helping take the second edition forward, as members of the WHO AA-HA! Technical Working Group. Their input on meaningful engagement is based on real experience from countries stepping up youth participation in developing health and well-being policies that affect them.
The new guidance will be launched at the Global Forum for Adolescents in October 2023, hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH). Youth-led and youth-serving organizations can sign up here to global call to action, informing and strengthening the Forum’s aim to mobilize the demands of one million young people, and make investment in adolescent well-being a priority.
By raising the priority of adolescent wellbeing, meaningfully engaging youth in all issues that concern them and fostering intergenerational solidarity, together we can make a World for All Ages.