International Youth Day 2021: Quality data crucial for improving adolescents’ health and well-being in countries across the world

Contraception within the context of adolescents’ sexual and reproductive lives


International Youth Day is held on the 12th August every year. This important event brings global attention to the specific and diverse issues which young people face and shines a spotlight on the power and potential of young people to speak for themselves and to make lasting change.

In recognition of the considerable challenges faced by adolescents to their sexual and reproductive health and rights, WHO has published a series of “country profiles” to summarise data on key issues.

The country profiles and why they matter
These resources intend to portray an accurate picture of adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues for 50 different countries. They bring together relevant data on ten different areas: socio-demographic characteristics; sexual activity; child marriage/ in union status; childbearing; fertility intentions and contraceptive use; abortion; sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and human papillomavirus; gender-based violence; female genital mutilation/cutting; and menstruation.

Margaret Bolaji-Adegbola, Founder, Stand with a Girl (SWAG) Initiative, comments on the importance of such disaggregated data: "Providing disaggregated data on AYSRH [Adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health] is key. For us in Nigeria, this has helped us engage with the government and other partners in ensuring adequate programming using evidence-based interventions”.

Engaging young people to use data to press for investment and action
Margaret Bolaji-Adegbola goes on to comment on the usefulness of the country profiles and how she hopes the evidence will help adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria:

“As a youth advocate, I had some struggles internalizing the Nigeria DHS [Demographic and Health Surveys Data] 2018 since its release. This factsheet provided me with a great AYSRH snapshot of the country. It was such a good summary of Nigeria DHS AYSRH related data. Having access to these real-time data on AYSRH will undoubtedly support data-driven and evidence-based action to improve AYSRH. It also reveals some data gaps in issues like abortion and gender-based violence."

Her comments also reflect how the profiles may be useful in the development of interventions and engagement activities on adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health:

”Programmes are now better targeted following the gaps identified. During the Nigeria Family Planning Conference in December, 2020, the country AYSRH Profile was useful in engaging with a broad range of stakeholders including the Adolescent Health Desk Officers who will be using them to prioritize AYSRH in the State as they implement the new Nigeria Policy on Adolescent and Young people health and development.”

Data for decision making
The country profiles are intended for government officials, staff in United Nations agencies, staff working in non-government and civil society organizations including those in youth-led groups, as well as researchers, and decision makers in funding agencies. It is clear however that their impact and usefulness may be much wider, as their clear format makes them easily understandable.

The words of Bentoe Tehoungue, the Director of Family Health in Liberia, underline how it is important to seize the current moment by investing in the future of young people. The data as summarised in the profiles helps decision makers to make informed decisions:

“About 4.5 million of Liberia’s population are adolescents and young people, up making 65% of the total population. Liberia has a youthful population. In order to harness the demographic dividend, we must invest in young people who will be our leaders of tomorrow. Quality data is important for decision-making and targeted programming. The country profiles have important data from many sources including the DHS on adolescent fertility, family planning and other issues. It will help us make decisions and design programmes for young people.”

Niranjan Saggurti, Director of the Population Council, New Delhi, India stresses the value of bringing together data from various sources for a holistic view of the situation of adolescents:

"As researchers we are keenly aware of the need for comprehensive and accurate data in evidence-based policy formulation and implementation of programmes. The World Health Organization's (WHO) latest country profiles on Contraception within the context of adolescents’ sexual and reproductive lives present the holistic view of situation of adolescents with regard to socio-economic, gender and health factors that affect their decision-making and access to services. The country profiles particularly shine light on critical factors that need policy/program focus for resources allocation and response. And, we at Population Council are proud to partner with WHO to strengthen the use of data in decision making."

Living up to commitments
Catherine Lane, the Director of Youth at FP2020 comments on how crucial such summaries of data are in ensuring accountability by countries to implement changes to help improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health:

“FP2030 is now soliciting commitments from countries that are intended to improve women’s and adolescents’ access to and use of contraception. We have developed comprehensive guidance for countries on how to make evidence-informed and rights-based commitments, including three recommendations on how to make bold and transformative commitments to improve adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health: Partner with young people, implement evidence-informed interventions, and develop your commitment against available data. These wonderful profiles provide just the type of data countries need to ensure their commitments are appropriately targeted and actionable! Many thanks to the WHO team for making this type of information so easily accessible! “

Data for impact
The comments of Darren Welch, Director of Global Health, at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in the UK, highlight the importance of improved data to make lasting change for adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights:

“The UK defends access for all to sexual and reproductive health and rights, but gaps in the data remain. Starting at the UK hosted Family Planning Summit in 2017, we have pressed for progress on the reproductive rights of adolescents. More than 30 countries committed to providing programmes supporting adolescents, and over 60 donors and partners committed to collecting of data in their programmes.

We are proud to have supported the WHO to develop these insightful country profiles on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. We hope they will help countries, NGOs, youth advocates and others to identify adolescents’ key life events and essential needs. Going forward, we will work with the global community to ensure these profiles are used widely”.

Source: World Health Organization