This blog is being written as the first Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health (CCAYH) in Port-of-Spain, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on 15 – 17 October 2019 is in session. The theme of the Congress is “Championing our wealth: promoting the health and well-being of adolescents and youth in the Caribbean”. The event has attracted approximately 150 youth from across the Region.
Ms Terez Lord, CARICOM Youth Ambassador provided a fundamental challenge to the Congress in her remarks at the opening session “This Congress, the first of its kind is for youth, by youth, with youth and supported by many agencies. It is bolstered by the momentum of our time. It is action-oriented and should have decisive follow up. This is not a talk-shop. We must set the basis for no less. Health and well-being are far and wide in reach and impact and must be met with ambitious, future-oriented, systemic regional responses”.
This landmark Congress is being held under the patronage of Mrs Sharon Rowley, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago with the support of several partners including PAHO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, Caribbean Development Bank, PANCAP and the Spouses of Caribbean Leaders Action Network (SCLAN), among others. We, therefore, await the outcomes of the Congress identified as “regional commitments”, a “vision and core principles” to address the health needs of adolescents and youth, empowering champions and developing “action plans” based on current and emerging priorities. This event promises to lead to a rebranding of Youth Affairs in the Caribbean; a phrase borrowed from the vision of the Hon. Terrence Deyalsingh, Minister of Health who stated that Trinidad and Tobago is rebranding its approach to mental health.
Rebranding here is applied to the broader range of issues at the CCAYH and should be closely aligned to recent international events, especially those which occurred during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September. I have provided a sample of programmes and policies at the global level, referred to by many of the speakers at the opening ceremony. These provide useful lessons.
Some Lessons to be learned from recent International Engagements
The four illustrations are by no means exhaustive but provide some useful signposts for action.
- UNGA’s first Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since they were adopted in 2016. The political declaration, entitled, “Gearing up for a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development,” proclaimed: “We stand firm in our determination to implement the 2030 Agenda as a plan of action for people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership – a plan to free humanity from the tyranny of poverty and heal and secure our planet for future generations.” Many of the speakers, especially Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes ORTT, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Hon. Terrence Deyalsingh underscored the importance of SDG #3 on Health and wellness referring in particular to the need for the Congress to address Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), Mental Health, suicide among young people and violence against women and girls.
- UN General Assembly Political Declaration themed “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to build a Healthier World” – This was highlighted in the address by Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Directorof the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), who underscored that PAHO is striving toward significant achievements over the next decade by (a) tackling communicable diseases, including HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, while addressing non-communicable disease and the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance through robust and resilient primary healthcare systems; (b) ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and reproductive rights; (c) protecting the wellbeing and dignity of women and girls; (d) changing the financing paradigm by stepping up the pace of investment towards Universal Health Care (UHC); and (e) the importance of bold leadership.
- Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ HealthForemost among the leadership of this strategy is the UNFPA whose Regional Director, Ms Alyson Drayton amplified how sexual and reproductive health and rights are highlighted in the global programme of the organisation. The Chair of the Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network (SCLAN), Mrs Kim Simplis Barrow also underscored that CARICOM First Ladies place emphasis on these issues and in particular on engaging men and boys in reducing violence against women and girls.
- The Lancet journal published “HIV, Health, and Wellness” which is a first of its kind review and meta-analysis that found that HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay, bisexual, and other Men who have sex with men (MSM) throughout Africa. This general conclusion may equally apply to the Caribbean as a whole. The authors evaluated 75 independent studies conducted across 28 countries. They found that HIV awareness, ART coverage, and viral suppression remain too low to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 Targets by 2020. Additionally, levels of testing were significantly lower in countries with severe anti-LGBT legislation.
Making Rebranding a Reality: “The Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region”
This conclusion is influenced by an event at the Annual IMF- World Bank Meeting in Washington on October 15, 2019, titled “IMF inspired Generation Z: Finding its Voice”. The leading voice at that session was Natasha Wang Mwansa an 18-year-old dynamo from Zambia. Her pedigree is fully illustrated in the following video:
It is also a reflection on the aspirational goal advocated by Ambassador Irwin Larocque CARICOM Secretary-General who gave the keynote address at CCAYH. He called for amending the 2000 Nassau Declaration of CARICOM Heads of Government from “the Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region” to that of “the Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region”.
I could not help thinking that the Secretary-General has provided a fitting way to mark the 10th Anniversary of the presentation to CARICOM Heads of Government in Suriname in January 2010 where the seminal report of The CARICOM Commission of Youth Development, The Eye on the Future: Investing in Youth Now for Tomorrow’s Community was presented. The Commission was co-chaired by Hon. Yldiz Pollock Beighle, now Foreign Minister Suriname, and a former CARICOM Youth Ambassador with the late Professor Barry Chevannes. I, therefore, pose the question: How about making this 10th Anniversary celebration in January or February 2020 an exercise in visioning the rebranding of Youth leadership at CARICOM? Perhaps at CARICOM’s intercessional meeting of Heads of Government? How about aligning its mission around the theme: the Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region?
Dr Edward Greene