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Youth advocates partner with pediatricians to stamp out global health inequities :

June 24, 2019

From left to right: (back row) Mychelle Farmer, M.D., FAAP, NCD Child chair, and Chantelle Booysen; (middle row) Stefan Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., UNICEF chief of health, and Marie Hauerslev, M.D., NCD Child chair-elect; (front row) George Msengi, NCD Child Governing Council member, Joab Wako and Margianta Surahman Juhanda Dinata, J.D.

Even though nearly half of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) stem from behaviors that start in adolescence, children often are left out of global policies that would protect them.

Young people have noticed. They’re speaking up, and pediatricians are listening.

Youth leaders had a speaking platform during an event hosted by NCD Child in Geneva, Switzerland during the 72nd World Health Assembly. NCD Child is a global, multistakeholder coalition that champions the rights and needs of children, adolescents and young people who are living with or are at risk of developing NCDs.

Providing this opportunity for young leaders to advocate for the right to be part of the global NCD agenda is a top priority for NCD Child. The AAP (NCD Child secretariat) attended alongside leaders from the International Pediatric Association and NCD Alliance.

The AAP mission includes ensuring that children and their families have access to and are involved in decisions about their care, said Janna Patterson, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, senior vice president of AAP Global Child Health and Life Support.

“We’re far from delivering on what these children deserve,” Dr. Patterson said. She rallied for the youth speakers to continue calling for attention from decision-makers.

The event drew top global child health leaders, including UNICEF Chief of Health Stefan Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., who urged youths to carry their dialogue to the highest political level.

“Don't wait for me to listen to you. Make me listen,” he said. Dr. Peterson interviewed youth speakers to draw out ideas to advance the rights that are spelled out in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (see box).

Youth speakers shared their desire to combat inequities that block them from achieving the right to access the highest standard of health and facilities possible.

Cancer, obesity, depression and suicide, and myriad other NCDs affect many young people around the world, said George Msengi, NCD Child Governing Council member and a fifth-year medical student from Tanzania.

“As we speak of the leading cause of global mortality to being NCDs, many tend to think that we are speaking of the deaths of only the older generation,” Msengi said. “No, this is not the case. We cannot speak of good health and well-being and leave NCDs out of our picture.”

In Indonesia, three out of five children are exposed to smoking. Tobacco control advocate Margianta Surahman Juhanda DinataJ.D., said widespread tobacco exposure is part of the reason why so many 10-year-olds start smoking there.

“No wonder that NCDs, which include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disorders, account for 73% of total deaths in Indonesia,” he said. “I believe young people themselves have to be actively involved to tackle the challenge of our time.”

Joab Wako, of Kenya, and Chantelle Booysen, of South Africa, shared their experiences receiving a kidney transplant and coping with bipolar disorder, respectively. Wako launched a transplant advocacy group to help other transplant patients access care. Both youths emphasized that universal health coverage is crucial for young people with chronic illnesses.

If all individuals are granted access to quality, affordable health care, they will be able to lead productive lives and contribute toward building strong economies, Dr. Patterson said.

Achieving universal health coverage is the focus of an upcoming United Nations high-level meeting that the AAP will attend in New York on Sept. 23. All U.N. countries have agreed to try to achieve universal health coverage by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (See This commitment includes access to quality health care; access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines; and financial risk protection.

“As a pediatrician and mother of two boys, I recognize primary health care is the foundation we must fortify to get universal health coverage. This means health services must be affordable and accessible,” Dr. Patterson said. “We have a lot of work ahead to ensure children, adolescents and young people are not left behind.”

What are children’s rights?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history that provides an international legal framework for world leaders. It outlines childhood as a special period from birth until 18 years of age during which children should be protected and allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity as human beings, not objects.

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