Creative Solutions Needed To Address Adolescents Issues, Say Experts

Many of the countries that are home to the world’s 1·8 billion adolescents are poorly equipped to address their mental health needs, with less than 50 per cent setting up mental health policies.

These troubling figures from Aiding Adolescents in Distress, the latest report by the medical journal Lancet, set the tone on the opening day of the International Association of Adolescent Health’s 11thWorld Congress. The theme of this congress is ‘Investing in Adolescent Health – the Future is Now’.

With 253 million adolescents, India is home to a majority of this demographic, a fact that places it at an advantage over other countries like China.

“Adolescents are not written into the budget lines of any government, but India has done so and this is impressive”, said Dr Antino Costello, Department Head of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organisation, one of the keynote speakers.

“The nationwide program, Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), is an imaginative one and could help achieve many milestones in adolescent health”.

The presence of over 50 state government representatives at this congress is a sign of the growing importance being given to this vulnerable age group.

“We have made a good case for adolescent interventions,” said Dr Sunil Mehra, Executive Director, Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child, which is organising the event. “Now we have to push this forward and mainstream it, which will be a challenge”.

Experts point to a need for interventions at multiple levels to address the specific concerns of the 10-24 years age group. They say that adopting a clinical, disease-focused approach is all wrong.

“This demographic dividend makes no sense unless we understand the aspirations of young people,” said Dr Vikram Patel, Professor, Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University and co-founder of Sangath, an NGO that works in the field of developmental disorders and mental health.

“There is a clash between social norms and the aspirations of the youth when it comes to matters like choice of career or partner, and this leads often to stress.”

Dr Patel advocates a creative approach, one that involves reaching out to both adolescents and parents from an early age at multiple levels – school, community, digital, family and society. “We have to recognise that care for adolescents requires specific interventions that involve parents,” said Dr Patel.

It’s a method that Sangath has adopted in many of its programs at Delhi, Goa and Bihar with successful results by training community health workers to deliver psychological therapy to help people with autism, depression and other mental health issues.

“We have a 100 million young people looking for jobs,” points out Dr Patel. “We should see this as an opportunity to train them to do this work and deliver personalized care and attention to people in distress”.

This article was appeared on NDTV Online. It can read here

Why India Needs Sex Education

In a country that reports high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse, one would think that the need for a curriculum focusing on gender equality, the importance of consent, and boundaries, would not be a matter of debate.

The reality, however, is that sexuality education for adolescents is a highly controversial topic in India. It is seen as offensive to Indian values, and concerns that it might lead to risky sexual behaviour and promiscuity.

Take the reaction when the central government in 2007 announced the launch of the Adolescence Education Programme in schools, along with the NACO, NCERT and UN agencies. Thirteen states called for an immediate ban as they felt that comprehensive sexuality education was against the Indian culture. Little has changed in the last 10 years. There is still a ban on Adolescence Education Programme in at least five states across India, and there is no uniformity in the way the subject is approached.

Sexuality education, as the UNESCO defines it, “provides opportunities to… build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality…. encompasses the full range of information, skills and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.

“The myth is that everyone is going to talk about sex”, says Dr Sunil Mehra, Executive Director of MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child which is hosting the 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health from October 27 to 29.  “In fact, it is about knowing your body, consent, interaction with the opposite sex, colleagues and friends,” adds Dr Mehra.

Research shows that comprehensive sexuality education delays sexual initiation and leads to a fall in sexually transmitted diseases.

“The fact is that there is sexual activity going on,” points out Dr Mehra. “Earlier it was within marriage but it is still happening at an explorative level. “The more one understands that, the chances of risky behaviour are lower. So are chances of coercion and physical violence.”

This is critical in a country like India where rates of sexual violence against women are high and discriminatory attitudes towards women persist. For a meaningful social change, reaching out to boys and girls on issues like consent and gender equality becomes critical.

Programs on the ground like Ehsaas by SNEHA in Mumbai and YP Foundation in Delhi, to name a few, are trying to plug those gaps.

“We have to go beyond looking at controlling adolescent fertility from the perspective of reducing unwanted pregnancies,” says Ishita Choudhry, Ashoka Fellow and Founder of The YP Foundation.

This article was published on NDTV here

Time For India To Turn The Spotlight On Adolescent Health

In the list of health priorities, adolescent health lags far behind maternal and child health in India. It’s a dangerous oversight given that India is home to the largest number of adolescents in the world. An estimated 253 million adolescents live in India, and one in every fifth adolescent in the world is Indian.

There is enough evidence to show that the period of 10 to 24 years is a critical one as the behavior patterns that form now shapes the health for a lifetime. Yet the world over, two-thirds of the adolescent population is growing in countries that are grappling with issues like child marriages, early pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and depression.

The International Association for Adolescent Health’s 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health, which begins in New Delhi in October, will turn the spotlight on this vulnerable and neglected age group. It is held once in every four years and is themed ‘Investing in Adolescent Health: the Future is Now’.

The Congress aims to push the case for developing a stronger primary care focus on adolescent health as well as kick-start investments in the health force to better respond to the needs of adolescents.

India has many challenges specifically the rise in underage marriages, especially of girls. Despite strong laws, the situation is grim even in rich states like Maharashtra where 16 districts figure in a countrywide ranking of the top 20 districts reporting an increase in child marriages, according to a study by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

“Investment in adolescence has huge implications for productivity and enhanced life skills which has a significant impact on a country’s overall productivity,” points out Dr Sunil Mehra, Executive Director, MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child, which are hosting the Congress along with a consortium of partners supported by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

“India has missed out on investing in this age group, which explains the high rate of child marriage which has serious implications for infant and maternal mortality and early pregnancies.”

As a Lancet 2016 study points out, puberty sets off a process of brain development and emotional change that carry through to the mid-20s. This is also a phase where most health problems and risk factors for disease in later life emerge.

Adolescence is starting earlier now and we know better now that these years reverberate across their lives,” says Dr Susan Sawyer, President, International Association for Adolescent Health.

“If we can keep girls in school longer, their marriages will be delayed, they likely to have children later, breastfeed their babies, immunize them and this will have affect health indicators like infant and maternal mortality”.

Given their significant presence, India needs to look at building a health force targeted at adolescents. Most adolescent interventions are targeted at tobacco and alcohol use and there is a mind block about teaching sexuality education in schools.

One of the most sensitive problems in many parts of the world is that young people are sexually active outside marriage, says Dr Sawyer.

“Given the many challenges, it is important to build health care systems to deal with the challenges that come with adolescence,” she adds.

This article appeared on NDTV Online here.


The Silent Victims of Punjab’s Drugs Crisis

This exclusive report, carried on NDTV 24/7 and NDTV India is on the hitherto silent face of the Punjab drug crisis – the women and children in the families of male drug abuse victims. Hundreds of young mothers are struggling with their kids, in penury, battling HIV and Hepatitis C virus infections that have been passed on to them. The complete picture of the drug crisis in Punjab has emerged. Or has it? The impact on the men who have fallen victims is being routinely documented now. What is getting left behind in the big picture are the voices of the women and children in the families of these victims, who are infected and in many cases severely depressed. Dispossessed of family resources and left with hardly any healthcare support, these women are also struggling with acute depression and suicidal tendencies. The impact of the vice-like grip of narcotics in the area of women and child health, on a closer look, is grave.