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Today on International Youth Day, we would like to take the opportunity to reflect on why we are working in the field of youth sexual and reproductive health, and look back at some of the accomplishments the global health community has achieved thus far. 

There are 1.2 million youth in the world today, representing 18% of the global population.  Nine out of ten youth live in developing countries, where they face profound challenges, such as limited access to resources, healthcare, education, training, employment, and economic opportunities.  Great strides have been made in improving the lives of youth, yet much remains to be done.  Since 2001, the rate of HIV among young people has decreased by 12%, yet every day, approximately 2,500 young people are infected with HIV. An estimated 5 million young people ages 15-24 are living with HIV, and AIDS is the eighth leading cause of death among adolescents ages 15-19 years old. The rate of adolescent pregnancy is declining worldwide.  But high rates of adolescent pregnancy still persist in many developing countries, where approximately a third of young women give birth before age 20. Furthermore, deaths related to child birth are still the number one cause of death among adolescent girls.  Worldwide, 70 million young people are out of school, and one in three girls is married before she is 18.

Despite these sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges faced by adolescents, there are equally as many opportunities to improve their lives.  Stated eloquently by Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF, “Adolescence is not only a time of vulnerability, it is also an age of opportunity.”  Investment in this age group is imperative to addressing poverty, gender discrimination, and inequality.  Young people hold the key to a world without poverty; “adolescence is the pivotal decade when poverty and inequity often pass to the next generation as poor adolescent girls give birth to impoverished children.” By investing in adolescents now, we are investing in the future.   So, today we urge you to consider the opportunities for further improving the lives of youth and to remember the reason for the work that you do.

For many, the New Year marks a time for change, for new beginnings, and for renewed commitments. At the start of this new year, we would like to take a moment to remember that this is the United Nations International Year of Youth, which is being celebrated from August 2010 through August 2011.

In December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 64/134 dedicating this year to youth. This resolution signifies the importance of youth-related issues. Currently, half of the world’s 7 billion people are younger than 25. More than one billion are between the ages of 12 and 24, and of these, nearly 85 percent live in low-resource countries.  Youth today face many challenges, including limited access to resources, healthcare, education, employment, and economic opportunities. Youth account for more than half of all new HIV infections, and have a high level of unmet family planning needs.

“Youth deserve our full commitment – full access to education, adequate healthcare, employment opportunities, financial services, and full participation in public life.” - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Youth are our future. Young people in all countries can bring about positive social change; their ideas, energy, and vision are our greatest resources.

What are you doing to celebrate youth this year? Use the “leave a comment button” to join the conversation. If you want to participate in the UN Year of Youth, visit the links below:

The official Year of Youth Web site

Year of Youth Activities Calendar

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This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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