Bridgetown, Barbados, October 20, 2020 – Caribbean youth advocates have called for action on areas of priority for their peers with the launch of the Caribbean Roadmap for Adolescent and Youth Health: Championing Our Wealth: Promoting the Health and Well-Being of Adolescents and Youth in the Caribbean.
Three days of discussion last November with close to 200 congress participants including policymakers, international and regional and partners, and young people, culminated in the launch of the roadmap on Monday.
The launch showcased the involvement of young advocates in the design, moderation and content of the event and was hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Joining to officially launch the Roadmap was Guyana’s Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, who commended the young people and the partners for the collective wisdom encapsulated in the Roadmap.
“I want to thank PAHO/WHO, CARICOM and UN Partners for their leadership in this process. I urge you to continue the advocacy for political prioritization and the integration of these recommendations into national development plans. While the challenges before us are compounded by COVID 19, we have an opportunity of using this roadmap to usher future generations into a cleaner and healthier Caribbean. Can we do it? Yes, we can!” Minister Anthony exclaimed.
Five Caribbean youth advocates Pierre Cooke Jnr, Christopher Gilkes, Michelle Belfor, Jean Sano Santana and Renatta Langlais, took part in the launch and focused their discussions on the four tracks contained in the Roadmap: mental health, substance use, violence and injuries; sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV and STI; nutrition, physical activity, sports and youth development; and climate change and the environment.
Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC)’s Youth Voices Technical Advisor, Pierre Cooke Jnr, noted that the issues highlighted in the Road Map are human rights concerns and required, in many cases, moving beyond policies to enacting comprehensive legislation to protect the youth of the Caribbean.
Speaking specifically about NCDs, he remarked, “It is the right of every child to have access to the highest attainable standard of health and we are simply not ensuring that they have access to that. When we look at systems where in the Caribbean, we have major gaps in protecting our children in the food and nutrition system. We don’t have mandatory front of package labelling. We don’t have increased taxes on sugar sweetened beverages. And, within our schools, we don’t have proper legislation and policies in place to protect our children to ensure that they have healthy and nutritious meals.”
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) advocate, Michele Belfor from Suriname, called for leaders to prioritize this area, stating, “Within this pandemic we are seeing that sexual and reproductive health has been put in the background even more so than it was before. People are really focusing on food nutrition, which is fair, but if we do not focus on SRHR and gender-based violence we are creating a pandemic within a pandemic. This Roadmap could not have come at a better time to provide the needed actions from young people…”
In offering congratulations to all involved in bringing the Roadmap to fruiting, Director of the Family, Health Promotion and Life Course Unit, PAHO/WHO, Dr Andrés de Francisco, noted his delight that the congress was not just a stand-alone event.
“This roadmap document summarizes the results of the congress discussions, and proposes clear and measurable action in priority areas, including mental health, sexual and reproductive health, environment and climate change… And I want to assure you that as PAHO we will do our utmost to respond to this call and help implement the roadmap recommendations,” he said.
The CARICOM Secretariat has already taken note of the recommendations and is committed to continued support.
Helen Royer, CARICOM’s Director, Human and Social Development, said:
“New initiatives, for example, plans to engage young people in programs to mentor and train youth leaders and engage youth in decision-making and strategic planning on issues of climate change and the environment and its impact on health have also been added to the program of work through the EU, CARICOM, PAHO project on climate change and health systems…
“But I also firmly believe that if we are to achieve the change we are seeking, we must see ourselves as champions for change and we must be prepared to step off the stage, as it were, and run alongside our adolescents and youth…. yes… run if we want to keep up with them, in the pursuit of the goals of this road map,”
The Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health (CCAYH) was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago from October 14-17, 2019.
The discussions and recommendations were carefully documented by a team of notetakers and technical consultants for preparation of the Roadmap. The purpose of the Roadmap is to provide strategic guidance on actions member states should take to address adolescent health in their local setting and is available here.