As the ‘corona-coaster’ of last year inexorably rolls into 2021, the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic continue to be felt differently in different places. Yet, as highlighted in our COVID-19 policy statement, the disproportionate impact on the adolescent mental health toll is a strikingly universal feature of the pandemic, with growing recognition of the importance of schools as communities for adolescent health and wellbeing as well as learning. It seems remarkable that within a year of the first known case of COVID-19, and the subsequent sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, a series of safe and effective vaccines provides at least some confidence that 2021 really will be different from 2020. Many questions remain about the efficacy of vaccines and the duration of immunity – let alone the impact of vaccine hesitancy and growing population weariness with social distancing. However, the biggest challenge is logistical; it will be a staggering task to vaccinate the world’s population against SARS-CoV-2.
Having deferred our World Congress last year, we are looking forward to hosting a hybrid meeting in November this year. I am excited about the program and am optimistically looking forward to joining like-minded enthusiasts in Lima, Peru. Dr Jon Klein (US) and Dr Maria del Carmen Calle Davila (Peru) are our scientific co-chairs and welcome your engagement as the conference planning progresses.
Next month (March 21-27) includes International Adolescent Health Week (IAHW), an event that is increasingly celebrated with young people in different countries. In this newsletter, we are pleased to highlight an article written by the Youth Ambassadors from the IAHW network about what they need as they continue to navigate the vagaries of the pandemic.
We are also delighted with the growing global audience for the bimonthly webinars that our own Young Professionals Network is convening. Last week, I was honoured to be interviewed by Dr Melis Pehlivantürk-Kızılkan (Turkey), one of our YPN’s leadership team. I was impressed that over 450 people registered from many different countries – if you were not one of them, feel free to check us out on our YouTube channel. Ideas for future webinars? Just let the YPN know.
In the future, it seems likely that regional meetings will become a greater aspect of how we connect. The last international conference I attended in person was IAAH’s 1st Caribbean regional congress on Adolescent and Youth Health, held in Trinidad in October 2019 and co-hosted by a range of UN partners. My warm memories outshine any experience I had from virtual meetings last year, notwithstanding their benefits. Sigh! Part of IAAH’s mission is to expand national and regional associations for adolescent health. It was therefore very exciting to launch the new Caribbean Association for Adolescent Health at the meeting. Dr Sheila Forrester (Jamaica), the ‘grand dame’ of adolescent health in the Caribbean, was appointed as foundation president and I greatly enjoyed catching up with her, as well as IAAH’s past and current Caribbean vice-presidents, Dr Abigail Harrison-Kong and Dr Asha Pemberton. Dr Pemberton had a major role in both the conference and the new association and is appropriately highlighted in this newsletter, as is the formal conference report from PAHO.
Adolescent health is still a relatively new field and the mission of IAAH is to catalyze local, regional and international connections between the multidisciplinary professionals who work with adolescents, the organizations that support them, and young people themselves. We are thrilled that a new grant from AstraZeneca’s Youth Health Programme will greatly improve our ability to advance this agenda. So, as we move further into this hopeful new year, don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your ideas and aspirations, challenges and suggestions as I know that you all have something to offer IAAH.