Opening Address by the Regional Director at the South-East Asia Region Town Hall on Youth Engagement

20 March 2019, Jakarta, Indonesia

Hon’ble Professor Dr Nila Farid Moeloek, Health Minister of Indonesia; leaders of the present and future; Diah Satyani Saminarshi, Senior Adviser to the WHO Director-General; senior officials from the Government of Indonesia and WHO,

Though I’m sure you’ve heard it before, I’m pleased to remind you: Today’s world has the largest number of young people ever.

That is exciting.

Young people have the courage to make bold decisions.

They have the ingenuity to come up with out-of-the-box, innovative solutions.

And they have the moral integrity to identify injustice and hold power to account.

Very often, young people have the vision and courage to do what many of us would never consider possible, or even worth attempting.

But for young people to achieve their potential, they must be healthy.

With the bulk of the world’s youth in low- and middle-income countries, where health indicators can be less-than-optimal, that requires us to think deeply about what we want our future to look like.

This is especially the case as we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals generally and the health goal specifically.

More than anything, it requires us to take a moment to simply listen.

Doing so is particularly important for policymakers in the WHO South-East Asia Region, which is home to 533 million young people, including 363 million adolescents.

Young people Region-wide face many pressing health issues.

Unintentional injuries, particularly road injuries, for example, are the leading cause of adolescent deaths.

Suicide is responsible for one in every six deaths among adolescent females.

The increased consumption of alcohol and fast food is compounding the risk of developing noncommunicable diseases.

And screen-based forms of entertainment, whether from smartphones or gaming, are contributing to overweight and obesity.

Early marriage and childbearing remains a problem, with maternal mortality the second most common cause of death for girls between 15 and 19 years of age.

Distinguished participants from multiple disciplines, several areas of work, and of multiple ages,

For many years WHO has sought to hear the voices and concerns of all young people across our broad and very diverse Region.

The insights we have gleaned are reflected in the Region-wide roll-out of WHO-advocated, locally owned adolescent health programmes.

As outlined in WHO’s Regional Strategic Guidance on Accelerating actions for Adolescent Health, these programmes include several core interventions.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services is one.

Access to advice and guidance on nutrition or services for mental health is another.

And assistance and treatment for injuries and violence is yet one more.

But access for young people to health services goes beyond youth-targeted programmes.

The pursuit of universal health coverage, for example, will have a significant impact on all people, including the young. As part of that pursuit, robust and effective health financing is crucial.

Emerging fields such as eHealth and mHealth likewise hold great potential. Strong, well-thought-out digital health policies could have great impact on timely health-seeking for all, especially young people.

But as crucial as health sector initiatives are, to secure the health of young people, a whole-of-society, multisectoral approach is needed.

That means:

First, including young people in policy development and programmatic activities, ensuring their voice is heard and their priorities are integrated into associated health programmes.

Obtaining the buy-in of young people to their own health, as well as the broader SDG agenda, is vital to ensuring our shared future is as healthy as possible.

Second, developing awareness campaigns – including within schools and colleges – to ensure young people are familiar with key services and can access them without the need for parental consent.

This is particularly important given the hesitancy young people often express to accessing services and the lack of anonymity they fear in doing so.

And third, it means working across sectors, including with the private sector and in schools and colleges, to encourage cultural shifts that promote healthy lifestyles and diminish immediate and long-term health risks.

This could mean discouraging advertising that glamorizes risky driving or promoting campaigns that encourage healthy eating, alongside increased exercise. It could also mean working with women’s groups to change norms surrounding early marriage.

Distinguished participants,

As I hope I’ve made clear, within the health sector and beyond, we must listen more actively to young people themselves.

There is always more to learn.

There are always more perspectives to accommodate.

And there is always the courage, passion and innovative thinking that young people have that can be harnessed and turned into powerful solutions to pressing problems.

That is why this Youth Town Hall is so valuable, and why I am sure the insights gained will have such wide-ranging impact.

Importantly, in doing so, they will build on the outcomes of the previous Youth Town Hall held in Cairo just a few months back and the wider momentum we have developed.

In closing, I thank colleagues at WHO HQ and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and its constituent members for working with us to make this happen.

I thank the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia for its exemplary hosting of this event.

And I thank the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives for their unceasing and ongoing support and facilitation.

Most of all, I thank each and every one of today’s participants.

Your voices and perspectives will be welcomed and heard. Your ideas and inputs will be valued and appreciated.

Thank you very much.