SEATTLE — Adolescent health care is an area of uncertainty for many youth in developing countries. Questions pertaining to when and where an individual can go and whom they can speak to are all valid concerns for those who may feel lost in a health system that does not look after them.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Existing health services often fail the world’s adolescents (10-19-year-olds). Many adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders, substance use, poor nutrition, intentional injuries and chronic illness do not have access to critical prevention and care services. Meanwhile, many behaviors that have a lifelong impact on health begin in adolescence.”
Recognizing these shortcomings within healthcare systems, the development of new global standards by WHO and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) will help countries improve access and quality of adolescent health care.
WHO describes adolescents as a unique group of individuals because of their simultaneous emotional and physical development at a time in life where they continue to be dependent upon parents and guardians.
Under these new standards, WHO and UNAIDS ask that healthcare facilities take a more “adolescent-friendly” approach. This would include inexpensive or free consultations along with the accessibility of age-appropriate information.
Subsequently, the need for healthcare consultations to be perceived as a safe environment where adolescents can walk in and out without the need for parental consent is imperative in the success of adolescent care.
Adolescents, in particular, are extremely vulnerable. The top three causes of death among them are road traffic injuries, HIV-related illnesses and suicide, WHO said.
“Not only is adolescence a period of life when people are particularly vulnerable to certain health issues, it is also a time when critical behaviors are shaped that will affect health in the future,” WHO said.
Nonprofit organization Unite for Sight, which works towards eliminating patient barriers to health care, said sexual health is “an area of key concern” regarding youth, particularly females.
According to Unite for Sight, in sub-Saharan Africa, girls aged 15-24 years old are about three times more likely to become infected with HIV/AIDS as compared to young men of the same age. In South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the girls are up to six times more likely to become infected.
Currently, most students graduating from nursing and medical school programs do not receive adequate training when it comes to adolescent care. WHO advises a focus on educating medical professionals to better meet the specific needs of adolescents.