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Director’s Message – October 2019

October 31, 2019

At the opening ceremony of the Inaugural Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health (CCAYH) held earlier this month Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) reminded us of the Conference of Heads of Government Nassau Declaration on Health 2001: “The Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region”. Ambassador LaRocque proffered that ‘The Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region”.

The Congress was held under the theme ‘Championing our wealth: promoting the health and well-being of adolescents and youth in the Caribbean and was attended by over 85 adolescents and youth, as well as healthcare professionals, and Regional and development partners, educational, communication and other professionals. Over three days, the Congress received presentations and convened group discussions and plenaries around four themes: 1. Mental Health, Substance Use, violence and injuries; 2. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, HIV and STIs; 3. Nutrition, Physical Activity, Sports and Youth Development; and 4. Climate Change and Environment.

I have no doubt that this Congress stimulated and challenged the thinking of our adolescent and youth in our Region to reflect on their health and the critical role that they must play to maintain good health. They were buoyed with excitement to share and to learn from each other, as well as from the experiences of the “youngish” as they fondly referred to all of us who were not as young as they are. As was expected, the youth were creative in their interactive presentations and sought to energise and to balance serious issues with humour.  It was a joy to listen to their passion, perspectives, intellectual analysis and their relentless call for the “youngish” to move beyond planning and advocacy to action and change. In fact, it was Dr Clarissa Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), who began that call during her keynote address at the opening ceremony when she reminded youth of the many commitments that have been made by the “youngish” policymakers. In pre-empting the youth’s thoughts, Dr Etienne posited that they must be asking, “so what?”. She made a clarion call for decisive action by our policymakers.

The Congress participants agreed on a Roadmap toward Adolescent and Youth Health in the Caribbean and recommended that member states invest in adolescent and youth health and development to ensure that young people survive, thrive and are integrally involved in the transformation of the countries of the Region.  Key strategic areas that can promote significant returns on investment and realise triple dividends include investment in mental health, sexual and reproductive health, mitigating climate change, and healthy lifestyles.  It was also recommended that youth must also be facilitated to actively engage in processes. The Roadmap included several policy and programmatic recommendations under the four themes of the Congress.

Cognisant of the above recommendations, it is incumbent upon us the technical leaders to facilitate our young people’s engagement at the level of our Heads of Government to bring the recommendations in the Roadmap to their attention, call for bold action by them, and receive commitments which are followed by action to implement the recommendations of the Roadmap, albeit incrementally. This is the only way that we can truly convince our young people – our children – that they are the wealth of the Region and answer Dr Etienne’s question, “so what”?