Washington, D.C. 2 October 2019 – A group of young leaders from various countries of the Americas have called for actions that enable them to thrive in life, and not just survive.
“As youth, we don’t want much – we just want to live our best lives. But this means living healthy, prosperous and fulfilling lives”
This took place during a side event “Helping young people in the Americas to thrive,” at the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) 57th Directing Council, which brings together ministers of health and other high-level authorities to discuss the main health topics for the Region.
“As youth, we don’t want much – we just want to live our best lives. But this means living healthy, prosperous and fulfilling lives,” said Terez Lord, CARICOM Youth Ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago. “We want to thrive, not just survive,” she said.
Around 237 million young people between the ages of 10-24 live in the Americas, representing around a quarter of the Region’s population. According to the PAHO report The Health of Adolescents and Youth in the Americas, half of all deaths of young people in the Americas are due to homicides, road traffic accidents and suicides, all of which are preventable. Homicides represent 24% of mortality, followed by traffic deaths at 20% and suicide at 7%.
"Traditional health care forms part of the customs we inherited from our grandparents. We must continue that oral legacy so that it is integrated and protected.”
Access to health for indigenous populations without discrimination and with respect for traditional medicine was also addressed during the panel discussion, which was moderated by Zuwena Perry of Barbados and Antonia Benito of Guatemala, both members of PAHO´s Youth for Health group. This group was created recently by PAHO and aims to bring together young people in order to discuss innovative ideas and solutions to the health problems that affect them.
“We want to be able to go to a hospital, but to also feel assured that if we do go, our traditional knowledge and medicine will be respected,” said Kantuta Conde, an 18-year-old Bolivian indigenous woman and a member of the Youth for Health group. "Traditional health care forms part of the customs we inherited from our grandparents. We must continue that oral legacy so that it is integrated and protected.”
Lia Zevallos, an activist from Peru, highlighted the issue of mental health and the lack of access to psychological care for vulnerable populations. “It´s important to have spaces where young people feel comfortable discussing their problems with each other,” she said. “Empowered youth will empower other youth.”
“Now is the time to listen to our youth and change our approach,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “We still see some youth that are not thriving and that are exposed to risk factors” with negative impact on their health and well-being. We cannot continue to do what we´ve been doing and expect different results,” she added. The organization has also involved youth in technical meetings to develop national plans on issues that involve them.
The event´s panel included the Minister of Health of Jamaica, Christopher Tufton, who highlighted the need for ministries of health to collaborate more with young people. “We have to make adjustments to our traditional infrastructures in health services so youth can have better access, discuss their problems, and receive better treatment.”
Ch´umilkaj Curruchiche, a Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala; Fabrizzio Canaval, representative of the International Federation of Medical Students, and Sonja Caffe, PAHO’s Regional Advisor on adolescent health, also participated in the event, singer-songwriter Ch´umilkaj Curruchiche from Guatemala, which was closed by PAHO Assistant Director, Jarbas Barbosa.
Barbosa highlighted the importance of health services that take action to prevent suicide and adolescent pregnancy. Latin America and the Caribbean have the second highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in the world. “Behind each pregnant adolescent is a story of cultural barriers, stigma, and lack of access to information and health services” that need to be overcome, he said.
Access here the recording of the session