No #HealthForAll Without Adolescents

I remember the call and how upset my friend sounded on the other end.

About 20 years ago, during my second year of medical school, I was sleeping in (a rare treat during this hectic time in my life). The ringing woke me up.

“Gino, you have to help me out.”

Sandra, my childhood friend, sounded upset. Devastated. She told me her younger brother impregnated his schoolmate.

“You are studying medicine.” She pleaded, “You should know more about this than I do.”

Sandra was already dealing with a lot. At 20, she found herself in the position of supporting her siblings. Now this.

Her brother was 17. The girl, 16. They had no access to information about their bodies, safe and responsible sex, and reproduction. Now she feared they’d have no future.

I shared what information I could, but I wish I knew then what I know now.

So today, in honor of World Health Day, I am sharing what I know about a resource that may help you.

Equity for Adolescents Starts Here

This World Health Day, when our global community is focused on achieving universal health coverage, I find myself thinking about my friend, about her brother and his partner, and about my own experience as a young girl in Benin.

That’s me in the picture.

Back then, all I needed was someone I could easily talk to about my fears and feelings.

Someone to answer my questions without judging me or labeling me in any way.

Someone to give me simple answers about my concerns and help me think through my own decisions.

Someone to trust and just be there, by my side.

I needed a place to go without fears and boundaries.

Somewhere I could learn about and get solutions to protect my health and future.

This is not just about getting services. It’s about making sure young people can find their way and make their own responsible decisions. It’s about delivering what young people need—public health systems that make good on their promise of equity by advancing youth-friendly and youth-responsive services.

This is not a revolutionary idea. Youth-friendly services are not new to anyone reading this. Yet millions of young people continue to face the very same situation my friend’s brother and partner faced over a decade ago. We simply aren’t moving the needle fast enough.

Until we find more effective ways to meet the needs of today’s young people—the largest generation of young people in history—how can we possibly hope to achieve universal health coverage?

The time is now to meet young people where they are.

Sharing a First-of-Its-Kind Tool

“Equitable,” “accessible,” “acceptable,” “appropriate,” and “effective.” These are the five characteristics for adolescent-friendly services, as defined by the World Health Organization. As a global community, we need to invest in programs that meet these standards.

E2A can help.

As program designers and implementers, you can use our “Thinking Outside the Separate Space” (TOSS) tool to move away from a one-size-fits all model for youth-friendly services and be truly responsive to young people.

While there existed several guides and tools to support implementation of a youth-friendly service model, until TOSS, there was no global how-to guide for program designers—to help them select and adapt an appropriate youth-friendly services model that integrates the complex and various needs of adolescents and youth.

In honor of World Health Day, I hope you will please take one step—explore the TOSS tool. See how you can advance universal access to each and every young people. Let’s make sure young people have what they need today and for an empowered adulthood.

Only then will #HealthforAll be possible.