NEW DELHI — India’s recent decision to launch a national adolescent health strategy aimed at addressing the critical health concerns of adolescents in the country, indicates the Government’s determination to put youth at the centre of its priorities. In a nation where a fifth of the population is aged 10-19, the broad benefits of healthier youth will have a profound impact on the future prospects of the whole population.
Launched by the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad, in New Delhi on January 7 and developed with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, this strategy will provide health, information and services to fulfil the needs of adolescents, including girls and marginalized groups, a 243 million strong, yet very vulnerable cohort. The adolescent birth rate among 15-19 year-old female adolescents in India is 76 out of 1,000.
The strategy recognizes that only policies and programmes focusing on the rights and well-being of the large and increasing adolescents and youth population in India can translate into a demographic dividend for the country—the accelerated economic growth that can result from a rapid decline in a country’s fertility rate coupled with smart investments in health, education and job creation.
“Addressing adolescent health needs would obviate several reproductive, maternal and child health challenges”, said Ms Anuradha Gupta, the Director of India’s National Rural Health Mission, an initiative undertaken by the Government of India to address the health needs of underserved rural areas and one of the world’s largest public health programmes. “Age at marriage, birth preparedness, appropriate spacing, teenage pregnancy and mortality and morbidity associated with it can be addressed only when we start to work with adolescents, both boys and girls, and their caregivers.”
Invited by the Government of India to attend the launch, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Kate Gilmore said, “The vision that drives the programme is panoramic in scale, and a mastery of public health. It is unprecedented in its dimension.”
UNFPA has been instrumental in advocating the for the inclusion of adolescents in the country’s large public health programme on reproductive health. By investing in adolescent health today, we invest in the workforce, parents, and leaders of tomorrow, and break the inter-generational cycle of poor health. Investments in adolescents will have an immediate, direct and positive impact on India’s health goals and on the achievement of several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In a joint statement by UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, renewing their commitment to support implementation of the strategy, UNFPA India Representative Frederika Meijer said, “We all agree that for successfully addressing adolescent needs, a multisectoral, holistic approach is required with multiple stakeholders involved. The participation of adolescents in all stages of implementation is absolutely essential if we are to fulfil the agenda of adolescents and young people.”