Editor’s note: Terisa Thompson, former CARICOM Youth Ambassador and member, PANCAP Regional Youth Steering Committee presented the following at the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) in September 2018.  Her appeal for client-centred sexual and reproductive health services for youths received rousing applause and endorsement from the COHSOD.  Read Terisa’s inspired speech below.

Right this minute in your minds, name five young people you know between the ages of 15-24 years.  Now please imagine TWO of that FIVE are one second from help but die because well, they needed permission FIRST; before someone could help to save their lives.

You already know the statistics and the context of the Caribbean youth challenges in relation to sexual and reproductive health.  Please also imagine that in addition to the already mounting debt each of our countries faces, we spent over US$15.9M of our Health Care budgets on HIV Programmes ALONE in 2013, that’s over Jca$1.4 BILLION, and I’m sure that’s still A LOT of resources in other countries in the Caribbean.

I can imagine so many more hospital beds, improved medical facilities, lifesaving surgeries, medical research, other health services that are so desperately needed and could be HUGELY impacted if we saved so much of those resources. That’s approximately a quarter of some Caribbean territories’ entire annual earnings in GDP.

So, on behalf of the millions of young people between 15 and 24 years of age living in the Caribbean, representing 20% of the Region’s population, we are inviting you to help save those TWO youth you thought about earlier and by extension the US15M, by providing access to youth-friendly, client-centred sexual and reproductive health services tailored to young people’s needs by addressing policies and laws regarding the age at which minors can independently access health care and by supporting civil society organisations with the capacity to reach and serve youth .

You can also achieve this by mandating and funding the production of higher quality data and ongoing research on youth outcomes. This includes disaggregating and reporting data by gender, key and vulnerable population and age group to reveal more about young people’s current needs.

This is a historic moment. Youth were not always invited to the discussion and even more so now to influence the policies and decisions, although we have always presented the Region with some of its most expensive issues. But today we are here because of your commitment to youth because you realise that youth understand youth and we are not a problem to be fixed, we are a resource and largely a great part of the solution!