Promoting the Health and Wellbeing of Young People During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Pierre Cooke, HCCs Youth Technical Advisor’s Discussion With Dr. Tedros, Director General of the WHO.
On October 2nd, fittingly two days after the Caribbean Region celebrated its annual Caribbean Youth Day, Pierre Cooke Jr, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition’s Youth Technical Advisor participated in the NCD Child webinar, “Promoting the health and wellbeing of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic”. This webinar was monumental as Pierre, alongside youth advocates and youth allies from across the globe discussed their major concerns with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, who provided thoughtful feedback.
The panelists aimed to address challenges faced by youth during COVID-19, specifically discussing these challenges from a health systems perspective, the need to facilitate and invest youth participation and structures that promote youth engagement.
Panelists highlighted the heterogeneity of young people and their experiences during COVID, especially vulnerable populations such as those living with non-communicable diseases and disabilities. They urged the WHO and audience members to consider many actions including ensuring that:
- young people’s needs and access to related services are not overlooked or further disrupted as we aim to “build back better”
- spaces are created for youth to meaningfully engage and contribute to the planning, execution and evaluation of policies and programmes,
- youth are compensated for their time and opportunities provided for youth transcend socioeconomic boundaries
Pierre used the opportunity to emphasize the need for institutionalizing meaningful youth engagement. Youth participation goes beyond the invitation to an event, it is acknowledging the value of the youth’s opinion and weighing it as an equal voice to their adult counterparts in discussion. He reiterated the importance of including the voices of vulnerable populations including youth living with NCDs and disabilities.
On the global scale, Pierre noted that engaging vulnerable populations or voices that are often “left out” means acknowledging and involving young people from small island developing states (SIDS). Pierre also encouraged the WHO and other government leaders to utilize a rights-based approach in developing youth-related frameworks, policies and programs and highlighted that integrating this type of approach can only lead to an equitable response.
Dr. Tedros responded to the panelist’s concerns and highlighted the WHO’s ongoing efforts to meaningfully support and engage young people – most notably the recent establishment of a WHO Youth Council. He also shared other examples of WHO’s commitment such as including young people on advisory boards, seeking out young people for independent contracts and ensuring that they are well compensated and partially funding internships to expand internship opportunities to young people of all socioeconomic strata.
The HCC congratulates NCD Child on an excellent event – one that amplified youth’s voices and concerns. The HCC also applauds the WHO for their progress in meaningfully engaging youth and especially on the announcement of a possible Youth Assembly, an opportunity for youth to discuss and share their responses to the world’s major health issues prior to the World Health Assembly. Dr. Tedros’ recommendation to governments to ensure that each country’s World Health Assembly delegation includes a youth representative is also particularly valuable.
We look forward to learning more about the Youth Council’s Agenda and the Youth Assembly – we know that our region’s youth are ready to make meaningful contributions.