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.