According to the 'World Health Organisation (WHO)', health is a state of complete wellbeing - physical, social, mental and spiritual - not just the mere absence of disease. And young people's health is often complex and requires a holistic and bio-psychosocial approach. They have particular health problems no matter where they live, but the nature of and responses to these problems may differ from country to country because of social, economic and cultural factors. Nowadays many young people engage in risky behaviours that affect their health and, therefore, the majority of health problems are psychosocial. Some young people experience multiple problems. These behaviours are established during youth and go on to become the lifestyles of adults leading to chronic health problems. Social, cultural and environmental factors are all important.
The Commonwealth publication 'Youth and Health' examines some of the contemporary health issues that affect young people; such as nutrition and diet, sexual and reproductive health, drug abuse and so on. It also defines the essential skills and knowledge for effective youth health promotion. The module looks at the need for appropriate alliances with health agencies and NGOs, enabling practitioners to recognise the different roles they have, and how to foster effective working relationships.
The module is divided into five units. The first unit discusses some key concepts - youth, health, primary health care, health promotion and health education. It also examines how patterns of health are both produced by social structures and cultures, and socially defined, with important consequences for health related behaviour. The dominant model of health throughout the developed world is the 'medical model'. This model requires massive social spending on training of health professionals, pharmaceutical products and medical technology. In recent years, social scientists have been arguing for a 'social model' of health which acknowledges that health is determined by social and environmental conditions. A 'social model' of health looks at creating the conditions which promote good health and make illness and disease less likely. Primary health care - which refers to services provided at the community level, for example by doctors, nurses, counsellors and other health professionals in community clinics, schools, the workplace or in the homes of patients - has been influenced by research based more on the 'social model' of health than the 'medical model' of health.
Unit-2 examines how young people can be involved in their own health care by empowering them to actively participate in all aspects of youth health programmes. Youths form a very large segment of the world population, especially in developing countries. Therefore, they are a major resource that can be mobilised against issues that concern them such as health. Young people can take an active part in research activities, especially those that target them. They can participate as community education agents. To actively participate in the planning, development and implementation of youth health projects, young people also need good communication skills and information about health issues and health services in their community. The next unit of the module sheds light on the major health issues related to 'nutrition' affecting communities locally, regionally and globally. It also focuses on the 'WHO's Nutrition Program' that aims to promote the nutritional wellbeing of all people of all ages, gender and race, and to prevent, reduce and ultimately eliminate all forms of malnutrition, with priority emphasis on the world's most malnourished, vulnerable and needy populations.
The fourth unit discusses some major health issues such as contraception, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS. About half a million women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth related problems throughout the world. Almost 90 per cent of these deaths occur in the developing world, including Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Pacific. Unprotected sexual activities among young people have various socio-economic and medical consequences. Adolescents who become pregnant are likely to drop out of school, and many are not able to continue their education after delivery. Abortion is widespread, and unsafe abortion is an increasing problem, with health and socio-economic consequences affecting young women in particular. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) constitute another major health problem across the world. In some countries over 10 per cent of all hospital attendances are STD cases. Impacts of HIV/AIDS on youths are multifarious. It causes serious socio-economic and health losses to communities as well as countries. Young people have the right to have accurate information and relevant services that will protect them from sexual and reproductive health care problems.
The last unit of the module examines various aspects of health resulting from and relating to substance use and misuse. Alcohol and drug abuse is increasingly becoming a very serious problem in both industrialised and developing countries. Major factors that lead to drug abuse by youths are: lack of information about the dangers of drug abuse, limited and/or ineffective law enforcement systems and family problems or disruptions. Drug abuse is associated with a number of health and social problems such as increased crime and violence among youths, deviant behaviour, poor health, the spread of HIV/AIDS, social displacement and exploitation of young people by society. Communities, and young people themselves, can do a lot to prevent drug abuse among youths: i) increasing awareness of the dangers of drug use and abuse among youths; ii) integrating drug prevention education into formal school activities to reach school youths; iii) motivating youths to adopt and maintain positive behaviours such as controlling of personal feelings and social responsibilities; iv) educating parents in recognising signs and symptoms of drug abuse in early stages so that they can seek effective treatment for their children, and so on.
S. M. Rayhanul Islam is an independent researcher.
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