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

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.