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You(th) on UHC: A Call to Action

Here is an article that one of our members, Lloyd, co-wrote with Grace Akpan via the PHC Platform.

In March 2019, AMREF Health Africa held the Africa Health Agenda International Conference, which included the youth preconference under the theme “nothing about us without us.” This meeting highlighted the importance of meaningful youth engagement in the planning, implementation and evaluation of all policies and programs that affect young people. There was also a call for greater focus on youth-led accountability towards government commitments to realize universal health coverage (UHC).

While UHC is a major goal for health reform, in many countries there has been a lack of meaningful inclusion of young people in UHC efforts. According to World Health Organization, UHC ensures that all people have access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to undue financial hardship.

For health systems to truly benefit everyone, quality and equitable access to care for all must be assured, addressing first those most in need. Young people (ages 15–24) constitute approximately one quarter of the global population, which is nearly 1.8 billion. This includes young people, as the barriers and challenges that youth experience to accessing healthcare are often overlooked or blatantly ignored with devastating impacts on health outcomes.

Young people, especially young women and girls, face specific structural barriers to accessing health services that must be addressed — including, but not limited to restrictive laws, lack of bodily autonomy and information about their health, inadequate accessibility to health services and stigmatization of certain essential services. These barriers lead to higher rates of adolescent pregnancy, child and early marriage as well as maternal mortality, particularly for the most marginalized young people.

Attending to young people’s health needs in UHC reform efforts can make or break the goal of realizing health for all. As a result, young people must be present in all high-level advocacy and decision-making processes as it pertains to UHC reforms. To this end, building the capacity of young advocates for UHC must be prioritized and the necessary financial, technical and time commitments must be made.

Capacity building is important as it not only develops the necessary competencies to make young people effective advocates for UHC, but it also strengthens the capacity of their respective organizations and networks. Capacity building of young people can be done meaningfully and effectively in the following ways:

· Building partnerships across the health system for meaningful youth engagement and funding youth-led initiatives for UHC;
· Connecting young people at the grassroots level to their counterparts who have access to high-level national, regional and global decision-making spaces; and
· Identifying the ways in which young people can contribute to the strengthening of health systems that help improve both UHC and access.

Empowerment and participation of young populations is key to equitable health systems. The young people of today will be the main drivers, planners and implementers of the current UHC movement towards the achievement of “UHC by 2030.” We have to make sure that there is YOU(th) in UHC.

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