Youth Voices and Actions at the Heart of Achieving Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals

by HCC

Youth Voices and ActionsYouth Voices and Actions at the Heart of Achieving Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals an overview of the 4th Global Youth Meet on Health under the theme Meaningful youth engagement for leading action on Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals.

On April 20th and 21st 2021, HRIDAY and  the World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia (WHO SEARO)  hosted the 4th Global Youth Meet (GYM) on Health, under the theme Meaningful youth engagement for leading action on Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals. The Healthy Caribbean Coalition among many other CSOs was pleased to be an official partner. Over 600 young persons from 35 countries across the globe attended the Meet.

The Caribbean was well represented during the Global Youth Meet. Youth advocates from across the region were in attendance and also served as presenters during some of the sessions. Mr. Pierre Cooke, HCC Youth Technical Advisor, was a panellist in a plenary discussion titled, “Meaningful involvement of young people in the global health and development agenda.” HCC Advocacy Officer, Ms. Danielle Walwyn, co-chaired a plenary with Katie Dain, CEO of NCD Alliance,  titled, “Meaningful youth engagement for leading action on Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals-Priorities and Strategies” and Ms. Kerrie Barker, HCC Project Assistant, facilitated a UNICEF Youth Advocacy Training in which HCC and Healthy Caribbean Youth presented a video contribution (see below) to the training which spoke to aspects of their own youth advocacy journeys.

The two-day meet was an inspirational reminder to youth that there are millions of us fighting for a healthier future – the future we want – and that we have a lot of support from allies. The meet also highlighted that there is still work to be done to ensure meaningful engagement of youth within the spaces we occupy. Meaningful youth engagement will require challenging existing power dynamics, eliminating tokenism and creating opportunities for youth to truly be involved in all aspects of programs and policies that affect us.

The two-day meet included a series of workshops focused on strengthening youth advocacy, plenary discussions that provided strategies and diverse perspectives on how to achieve the SDGs and Universal Health Coverage (UHC), and remarks from phenomenal youth and youth allies from across the world, including the Caribbean. At the closing ceremony, youth from across the WHO regions presented region-specific action plans; the action plan for the Americas focused on commercial determinants of health and building awareness about the industry’s health harming marketing tactics targeting young people. The GYM 2021 Youth Declaration was also presented, it highlights a number of youth priorities including creating opportunities for youth to contribute to the health agenda and strengthening the regulatory policy environments to protect young people from marketing tactics of the unhealthy commodities industry, with a specific focus on prevention and control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) among others.

Youth Voices and ActionsHer Excellency Mrs Patricia Minnis, first lady of the Bahamas and Honourable Chair of the Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network and the Honourable Dwight Sutherland, Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment in Barbados provided remarks during the opening ceremony, as guests of honour.  HE Minnis highlighted the CARICOM regions’ key concerns of childhood overweight and obesity, NCDs and mental health issues among our youth. In particular, she called for an increased focus on mental health programming for youth.

…we must continue to put mechanisms in place that are geared toward preserving the mental health of children and youth, hence the need to engage youth in this process. It is imperative that new programs be developed, and existing programs be revised and ensure that the diverse needs of individuals are fully addressed during these challenging times.
Her Excellency Mrs Patricia Minnis, first lady of the Bahamas

She encouraged youth to use the Meet as an opportunity to voice their concerns and noted that support needs to be provided to ensure that young peoples’ diverse issues are prioritized. She left young people with the final thought:

Preserving your health and wellbeing is paramount as you grow to become tomorrow’s leaders
Her Excellency Mrs Patricia Minnis, first lady of the Bahamas

Youth Voices and Actions

Hon. Dwight Sutherland, Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment for Barbados highlighted a number of issues facing young Barbadians and youth across the world including unemployment, disabilities and prevalence of overweight, obesity and NCDs. He noted that health policy is needed to ensure healthier young people.

In order to ensure longer lives. And healthier young people, Timely and effective health policies and interventions are needed and More investment is needed in health education
Hon. Dwight Sutherland, Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment for Barbados

Relatedly he noted that youth are key stakeholders in policy development.

As a minister with responsibility for youth, I am acutely aware of the need to listen to our young people – to engage our young people and ensure their active participation in policy formation. All young people, regardless of their background and challenges must be included and given platforms to ensure their full participation
Hon. Dwight Sutherland, Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment for Barbados

Youth Voices and ActionsMr. Pierre Cooke Jr, HCC Youth Technical Advisor, was a panellist in a plenary discussion titled, “Meaningful involvement of young people in the global health and development agenda,” where his remarks focused on youth engagement in the policy process reminding policymakers that youth engagement is critical to shape a future where youth can flourish. Pierre noted that,

The decisions made today by policymakers affect our future. It is not a future that they will inherit, it is a future for us, and necessarily we need to be a part of tailoring that experience and tailoring those policies to ensure that in the next couple years, a future we inherit is appropriate for the realities that we will be facing
Mr. Pierre Cooke Jr, HCC Youth Technical Advisor

The Caribbean voices highlighted that our young people are facing a number of challenges that were burdensome before COVID and have been exacerbated since the onset of the pandemic. They noted, however, that meaningful engagement of youth in all issues, policies and programs that affect them, is critical in securing a healthier future.

Youth Voices and ActionsThere were a number of phenomenal young people whose remarks resonated with us – as young people – in the Caribbean. One of them was from Mr. Fale Andrew Lesa from New Zealand, who called for youth engagement, particularly from disadvantaged youth in issues that affect them; a change in the healthcare system and compensation for youth work. His final sentiments focused on using COVID-19 as a springboard for a healthier healthcare system and a healthier future.

COVID-19 is not a crisis unless we treat it like one. By working together, it could become a platform for the much needed structural changes in healthcare. Let’s harness the collective courage and creativity of young people to take advantage of this global tragedy and build a more inclusive 21st century healthcare system
Mr. Fale Andrew Lesa, New Zealand

The Healthy Caribbean Coalition was honored to be a partner on the 4th Global Youth Meet on Health.
Youth from across the region, including Healthy Caribbean Youth, also participated in the meet. Read about their experiences below:

“The 4th Global Youth Meet on Health – #GYM2021 was my first international conference of that nature. I found the entire two days to be tremendously impactful, educational, and inspiring. The conference platform was impressive and allowed the user to interface with other attendees and do several other activities that facilitated networking virtually. 

 One point stood out during the sessions. That was the need for countries like Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean to place greater emphasis on achieving sustainable development goals 3- Health & Wellbeing. As it is believed that this goal truly impacts all other goals, and so if this goal is achieved, the other goals will be positively impacted and likewise will be achieved.

 I want to thank the Healthy Caribbean Coalition for supporting my application. I look forward to continuing to advocate for better health for the people of Jamaica and the Caribbean.”

– Offniel Lamont, Physiotherapist, Healthy Caribbean Youth, Jamaica

“It was such a pleasure to meet and learn from youth advocates across the globe. We as youth have strength in our numbers and it was interesting to see that youth in other countries experienced similar challenges and had similar goals.

 Thanks to the GYM organisers for ensuring that Caribbean voices were a prominent part of the conversation. I look forward to seeing and helping the GYM outcomes become reality.”

– Kerrie Barker, Project Assistant/Healthy Caribbean Youth, Barbados

“I had the opportunity of attending three GYM 2021 workshops, these included Diabetes: a global pandemic full of misconceptions lead by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), UNICEF Youth Advocacy Training & lastly Shifting the obesity narrative: The use of language and imagery when talking about obesity lead by the World Obesity Federation.

As a medical student none of the content was new to me, however, I was pleased with the standard of information presented to the youth advocates; whom many did not have a medical background but were passionate about the change they wish to bring about in their respective fields.

The workshop entitled “Diabetes: a global pandemic full of misconceptions”, highlighted that despite the many deficits in Barbados’ health care system we still have much to be thankful for. Especially access to free “formulary” medication even during this Covid Pandemic. As in many areas of the world insulin rationing is a dangerous yet habitual practice done by many persons suffering with diabetes in an attempt to stretch the scare and expensive commodity. Due to this practice many persons, including children have developed complications one of which was diabetic coma, and this was reported in a twelve-year-old Sudanese girl. Additionally, even presenters were reminded by some advocates (who are living with diabetes) of the inequity of grouping persons with Type 1 & Type 2 under the same umbrella as their causes, daily lives and stories are on listening can be quite different.

Regarding the UNICEF Youth Advocacy Training this was at the top of my interest and the first workshop I rushed to sign up for. I was curious to see what ‘youth advocacy’ training was like on an international level, and I was not disappointed. The session was engaging and interactive as many modes of interaction such as polls, Menti submissions and chat room questions were used. The principle of “Tokengenistic Youth” was touched on and this was my first time hearing this term and an introduction to the youth advocacy guide which is a useful resource.

Lastly, the workshop on Shifting the obesity narrative: The use of language and imagery when talking about obesity, was also very insightful. The concept of ‘weight stigma’ made me hedge the fence regarding our generation’s perception of body positivity and the normalization of obesity and how to work towards breaking the narrative and distinguishing the two in a refined manner. I was also reminded of how each sector of society has a role to play in putting an end to obesity but also the manner in which it has to be done with is without stigma (ie. Not using obesity as a description and focusing on more people centered wording such as people living with obesity or persons with a higher BMI).

– Jakaila Hewitt , University of the West Indies Cavehill Campus Medical Student, Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition Youth Advocate

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