This blog is being written as the first Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health (CCAYH) in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on 15 – 17 October 2019 is in session. The theme of the Congress is "Championing our wealth: promoting the health and well-being of adolescents and youth in the Caribbean." has according to the report attracted the participation of approximately 200 youth.
Ms. Terez Lord, CARICOM Youth Ambassador provided a fundamental challenge to the Congress in her remarks at the opening session as follows:
It is indeed a distinct honour to stand before you as CARICOM Youth Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago on this incredible occasion to deliver these words—out of my mouth but pouring out of the hearts of young people- youths and adolescents of the entire region. Today we witness and we contribute towards history which is more than the path left by the past. It influences the present and it can shape the future. Today, history is being made as we inaugurate the first ever Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health. This congress is a safe space, rich in dialogue, where international partners and practitioners can highlight and address issues/challenges circumventing good health and wellbeing of a major subset of the population and a critical human resource: the youth and adolescents. Not forgetting adolescents and youths with disabilities. It is a catalyst for policy makers to discuss how to improve as well as how to sustain investment in our health in a manner that is deliberate, impactful, measurable and sustainable.
This Congress, the first of its kind is for youth, by youth, with youth and supported by many agencies. It is bolstered by the momentum of or time. It is action- oriented and should have decisive follow up. This is not a talk-shop. We must set the basis for no less. Health and well-being is far and wide in reach and impact and must be met with ambitious, future-oriented, systemic regional responses.
When I think of regional responses, I think of the Caribbean Community— CARICOM. Collaboration. Camaraderie. Cohesion. Caribbean Integration. It makes meaningful and manifest the dream and ideology, or as my sister would say- the epiphany that birthed CARICOM when it was established in 1973 by the Treaty of Chaguaramus in Trinidad and Tobago .Today, this audacious, integrative move as integral to the sustainability development of our Region is so that future generations would have benefitted from what we as young leaders would have advocated for and for what we agitate. The young people are here in this room and beyond connected by the technology that allows us to web stream. They are present and ready. They are ignited by passion and purpose. We are ready to contribute to the conversations that impact our lives and that of generations to follow.
This landmark Congress is being held under the patronage of Mrs. Sharon Rowley, wife of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago with the support of several partners including PAHO, UNFPA, PANCAP and the Spouses of Caribbean Leaders Action Network (SCLAN) We therefore await the outcomes of the Congress identified as “regional commitments", a "vision and core principles" to address the health needs of adolescents and youth, empowering champions and developing "action plans" based on current and emerging priorities. This event promises to lead to a rebranding of Youth affairs in the Caribbean, a phrase is actually borrowed from the vision of the Hon Deyalsingh that Trinidad and Tobago is rebranding its approach to mental health.
Rebranding here is applied to the broader range of issues at the CCAYH and should be closely aligned to recent international events especially that occurred during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September. To set the context for a follow up reflections next week, I have provided a sample of programmes and policies at the global level , referred to by many of the speakers at the opening ceremony. These provide useful lessons.
Some Lessons to be Learned from Recent International Engagements
The four illustrations are by no means exhaustive but provide some useful signposts for action.
1. UNGA 's first Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since they were adopted in 2016 . The political declaration, entitled, “Gearing up for a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development,” proclaimed: “We stand firm in our determination to implement the 2030 Agenda as a plan of action for people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership – a plan to free humanity from the tyranny of poverty and heal and secure our planet for future generations.” Many of the speakers especially H.E Paula-Mae Weekes the President and the Hon Terrence Deyalsingh, underscored the importance of SGD# 3 on Health and wellness referring in particular to the need for the Congress to address NCDs, Mental Health, suicide among young people and violence against women and girls.
2. UN General Assembly Political Declaration themed “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World” This was highlighted in the address by Dr. Carissa Etienne, PAHO Director who highlighted its aims as striving toward significant achievements over the next decade by (a) tackling communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, while addressing non-communicable disease and the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance through robust and resilient primary healthcare systems; (b) ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and reproductive rights; (c) protecting the wellbeing and dignity of women and girls; (d) changing the financing paradigm by stepping up the pace of investment towards UHC; and (e) the importance of bold leadership.
3. HIV, Health, and Wellness: The Lancet HIV published a first of its kind review and meta-analysis that found that HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men throughout Africa. The authors evaluated 75 independent studies conducted across 28 countries. They found that HIV awareness, ART coverage, and viral suppression remain too low to reach UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets by 2020. Additionally, levels of testing were significantly lower in countries with severe anti-LGBT legislation compared to other countries.
3. Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health https://www.who.int/life-course/partners/global-strategy/en. Foremost among the leadership of this strategy is UNFPA whose Regional Director, Ms. Alyson Drayton amplified how sexual and reproductive health and rights are highlighted in the global programme of the organization. The Chair of SCLAN , Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow also underscored the emphasis that CARICOM First Ladies place on these issues and in particular on engaging men and boys in reducing violence against women and girls.
4. The Lancet journal published HIV, Health, and Wellness is a first of its kind review and meta-analysis that found that HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men throughout Africa. This general conclusion may equally apply to the Caribbean as a whole. The authors evaluated 75 independent studies conducted across 28 countries. They found that HIV awareness, ART coverage, and viral suppression remain too low to reach UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets by 2020. Additionally, levels of testing were significantly lower in countries with severe anti-LGBT legislation
Making Rebranding a Reality: The Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region
While this is intended theme of the follow up blog next week, It is significant that this conclusion is influenced by an event at the Annual IMF- World Bank Meeting in Washington yesterday (October 15) IMF inspired Generation Z: Finding its Voice . The leading voice at that session was Natasha Wang Mwansa an 18 year old dynamo from Zambia. Her pedigree is fully illustrated in a video clip under the issues and videos section on the GOFAD website. It stimulated me to reflect on the aspirational goal advocated by Ambassador Irwin Larocque who gave the keynote address at CCAYH. He called for amending the 2000 Nassau Declaration of CARICOM Heads of Government from "the Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region" to that of "the Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region". I could not help thinking about a fitting way to mark the 10th anniversary of the presentation to CARICOM Heads of Government in Suriname in January 2010, the seminal Report of The CARICOM Commission of Youth Development , The Eye on the Future: Investing in Youth Now for Tomorrows Community. The Commission was co-chaired by Hon Yldiz Pollock Beighle , now Foreign Minister Suriname, and a former CARICOM Youth Ambassador with the late Professor Barry Chevannes. I therefore pose the questions: How about making this 10th anniversary celebration in January/February 2020 an exercise in visioning the rebranding of Youth leadership at the CARICOM (perhaps at CARICOM's intercessional meeting of Heads of Government)? . How about aligning its mission around the theme : The Health and Youth of the Region are the Wealth of the Region.