Political commitment, robust advocacy and holistic investment essential for Adolescent Health

ISLAMABAD: Political commitment, increase in holistic investment in adolescent health and data-driven robust advocacy critical for health and resourceful wellbeing of future generations were deemed imperative at a pivotal roundtable discussion on “Advocacy on Adolescent Health”. The event was jointly organized by World Health Organization Pakistan, Sustainable Development Policy Institute and Planning Commission of Pakistan.
Chief SDGs of Planning Commission of Pakistan, Ali Kemal remarked that poor adolescent health in Pakistan reflect that the group was indeed being left behind which is a stark contradiction to the core principle of SDGs of “leaving no one behind”. He urged sensitizing public and policy makers and adopting a holistic approach to address the intersectional nature of the issue.
Dr Khalid Siddeeg, Regional Advisor Child and Adolescent Health, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO) highlighted that in 2019 Pakistan’s reported adolescent mortality rate for ages 10-19 was 97 and ranked 3rd highest in EMRO countries. Child marriage remains high, with 66 million women now aged between 20-24 years, getting married before 18. In Pakistan 18 out of 1000 women are reportedly marriage before 18. Child marriage is a grave concern considering the high prevalence of mental health issues and increase adolescent women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence. He urged meaningful engagement and empowerment of adolescents, strengthening political commitment and mobilizing funding through the Global Summit on SDGs.
Ellen Thom, Team Lead Healthier Population Cluster at WHO Country Office, Pakistan highlighted that pneumonia and diarrhea diseases are 2nd and 4th leading cases of 3000 daily adolescent daily around the globe, emphasizing need to sensitize states to increase investment in adolescent health as priority area.

Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director, SDPI urged for meaningful engagement with adolescents in which LHWs, religious leaders and local civil society can play a vital role. He urged for mobilizing finances for adolescent health services including counseling and care. Implementing responsive laws and policies, compiling granular data, and improving monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are potential strategies to elevate adolescent health indicators, he added.
Member Social Sector, Planning Commission of Pakistan, Rafiullah Kakar stressed that post 18th Amendment, without ownership of provincial governments and accountability, real progress in adolescent health cannot be realized and causes waste of financial resources, and duplication of efforts. To incentivize better performance of Provinces, the Planning Commission is initiating performance-based equity grants tied to efficient resource utilization and achieving targets, he added. The Planning Commission will also conduct comprehensive provincial performance reviews on devolved subjects since a decade of devolution, district-wise data standardization for healthy competition. He further suggested generating constituency-wise performances indices to enhance political accountability and standardize data metrics at the most comparable standard.
Dr Fareeha Armughan, Research Fellow, SDPI remarked that young adolescents are not just resources, but dynamic agents of change paving the way for a sustainable world. She underscored adoption of cross-sectional approaches to secure their well-being and health, to shape a sustainable future.
Dr Khawaja Masuood, National Coordinator Nutrition and National Fortification Alliance, MoNHR&C, apprised outlined various initiatives taken by MoNHR&C to eradicate malnutrition and strengthen provincial actions including Benazir Nashonuma Programme. He informed that the upcoming Pakistan Demographics and Health Survey will focus on age and gender segregated data.
Addressing issues like early child marriages, GBV, and adolescent pregnancies requires multifaced policies. Responsive curriculum, meaningful engagement of adolescents to steer change at community level are imperative to attain sustainable progress, said Dr Yasmin Qazi, Senior Country Advisor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr Fauzia Asad, Country Director, emphasized leveraging media platforms and SMS messages to create awareness on adolescent health and reproductive health.
The discussion was attended by senior officials from various ministries, development partners, and civil society organizations reaffirming the commitment to elevating adolescent health as a national priority.

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