Our History

The 1980s were a heady time for adolescents with appreciation of new influences on their health and of the power of young people to profoundly change their communities for the better. Within the UN, 1985 was the International Youth Year; the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child was signed in 1989, and WHO formally established an Adolescent Health Program at its Geneva headquarters in 1990.

In 1987, the Fourth International Symposium on Adolescent Health was held in Sydney under the auspices of the Australian Association for Adolescent Health. It was here that the International Association for Adolescent Health (IAAH) was established, with the encouragement and support of the World Health Organization and the Society for Adolescent Medicine. A Charter for IAAH was signed by 16 delegates from 13 countries (see Table below; a further 132 individuals recorded their agreement) and an Interim Committee formed with Dr. Murray Williams as Chair.

Table 1. Signatories to the Charter for an International Association for Adolescent Health, 31st March 1987.

Carlos Alvarez-Ruiz (Puerto Rico) Anameli Monroy de Velasco (Mexico)
Prema Bali (India) Usha Naidu (India)
Sauveur Boukris (France) Marcos Obedman (Spain)
Manny Chigier (Israel) Luis Olmedo (Puerto Rico)
Simon Clarke (Australia) Herminis Sabio de Zamboni (Argentina)
Herbert Friedman (WHO observer) Joe Sanders (USA)
John Goldenring (USA) Gerben Sinnema (Netherlands)
Anne McCarthy (Ireland) Murray Williams (Australia)

The vision was to create an organization that served as a hub for adolescent health professionals across the world, which aligned well with the zeitgeist. By 1990, IAAH had attracted nearly 400 members from 50 countries and established informal affiliations with 60 non-government organisations. IAAH was soon able to identify over 20 national and regional associations for adolescent health/medicine representing around 5000 committed health professionals worldwide. Serving as IAAH’s inaugural president from 1987-1989, Dr. Murray Williams (Australia) and his Committee created inaugural policies and established the fledgling association as an international voice for adolescent health care providers. Following his four-year term, Dr. Williams turned over the presidency to Dr. David Bennett (1989-1994) who developed an executive structure for IAAH and secured financial stability.

 

The initial Executive Committee members of IAAH were Drs. David Bennett (Australia), Diana Birch (United Kingdom), Emanuel Chigier (Israel) and Ms. Anne McCarthy (Ireland), with others invited to serve on the Council as representatives: Pierre-Andre Michaud (Congress Organising Committee), Herbert Friedman (World Health Organization – WHO), Joe Sanders (Society for Adolescent Medicine), Roger Tonkin (International Regional Chapter of the Society for Adolescent Medicine), and Abdoulaye Sar (Youth Organisations). Regional representatives were also appointed: Anameli Monray (Latin American), Gerben Sinnema (Europe) and Prema Bail (Asia). The Australian Association for Adolescent Health and the Society for Adolescent Medicine contributed much appreciated financial support in establishing IAAH.

Table 2. IAAH presidents, term and country of residence.

PresidentTermCountry of residence
Murray Williams1987-1989 Australia
David Bennett1989-1994Australia
Roger Tonkin1994-2001Canada
Sue Bagshaw2001-2005New Zealand
Ueli Buhlmann2005-2009Switzerland
Linda Bearinger2009-2013USA
Bruce Dick2013-2016Switzerland
Susan Sawyer2016, 2017-2021Australia

The 5th International Congress of Adolescent Health, held in Montreux, Switzerland in 1991 was the first international adolescent health conference under the auspices of IAAH and was a great success. Co-sponsored by the WHO and the International Children’s Centre in Paris, it featured over 350 delegates from 40 countries, with vibrant youth participation and a diverse set of papers, posters, and discussions. At the Congress the definitive structure for the IAAH Executive Council and the Articles of Association were ratified. IAAH’s Council was expanded to accommodate representatives from all regions of the world. Members from Africa, Asia, and Europe met to plan strategies for action and to develop timetables for future regional activities.

“Official Relations” status with the WHO was awarded to IAAH at the World Health Assembly in 1993. This drew IAAH into the global family of recognised, humanitarian, non-Government organisations (NGOs) and opened the way to representation at the annual World Health Assembly and other WHO events. This development further consolidated IAAH’s connection with WHO’s Adolescent Health Program. IAAH had become a legitimate, international voice for adolescent health and its relationship with the SAM was evolving.

Throughout the 1990s, adolescent health associations/societies were being established all over the world including in Spain, Switzerland, England, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Sweden, Portugal, and New Zealand. Each set to hosting conferences in their respective regions, focusing on the needs of local youth and those who worked with adolescents and young adults. Many of these organisations provided members with a regular newsletter. In 1995, the Youth Health Assembly, a joint IAAH/Society for Adolescent Medicine meeting, was held in Vancouver, BC, the brainchild of then President Dr. Roger Tonkin. Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier, President of the Canadian Association for Adolescent Health and member of IAAH, was also a key figure in facilitating this unprecedented collaborative event. At the conclusion of this meeting, Dr. Frappier was elected as Treasurer/Secretariat of IAAH.

The 2000s saw the leadership of Drs. Sue Bagshaw, Ueli Buhlmann, and Linda Bearinger at the helm of IAAH. Dr. Bagshaw was credited with creating the official regional vice president positions within IAAH. She also continued publishing an IAAH newsletter, along with establishing an official IAAH website. During her presidency, she worked closely with Dr. Frappier to revise the IAAH constitution to better fit the vision and mission of the organization. Dr. Buhlmann continued the legacy of IAAH by hosting the 9th World Congress in Adolescent Health in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in conjunction with the 31st Congress of the Malaysian Paediatric Association. Professor Bearinger spent her presidential tenure invigorating the organization by establishing monthly council meetings, refreshing the IAAH logo and website to ensure a wider range of content, planning the 10th World Congress in Adolescent Health (Istanbul, Turkey), and re-establishing IAAH as an international hub for those passionate about young people and the issues they face.

In 2013, Dr. Bruce Dick became the 7th IAAH president. Dr. Dick’s presidential goals were to develop a strategic plan to further define the directions and goals of IAAH, and to strengthen IAAH’s global advocacy efforts. He oversaw the 11th World Congress in Adolescent Health, the largest world congress yet held, in New Delhi, India in 2017. At the completion of Dr. Dick’s term as President, IAAH also saw a change in the Executive Committee, with the retirement of long-time treasurer/secretariat, Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier. Having attended to the financial and administrative tasks for over 20 years, Dr. Frappier continues to be a source of knowledge and wisdom regarding the history and functionality of IAAH.

Table 3. Years and sites of past World Congresses on Adolescent Health.

YearEventCity, country
19741st International Symposium on Adolescent HealthHelsinki, Finland
19792nd International Symposium on Adolescent HealthWashington DC USA
19833rd International Symposium on Adolescent HealthJerusalem, Israel
19874th International Symposium on Adolescent HealthSydney, Australia
19915th International Congress on Adolescent HealthMontreux, Switzerland
19956th International Youth Health Assembly (in association with SAM)Vancouver, Canada
20017th World Congress on Adolescent HealthLisbon, Portugal
20048th World Congress on Adolescent healthBahia, Brazil
20099th World Congress on Adolescent HealthKuala Lumpur, Malaysia
201310th World Congress on Adolescent HealthIstanbul, Turkey
201711th World Congress on Adolescent HealthNew Delhi, India

New initiatives have been launched under the leadership of the current IAAH President Professor Susan Sawyer, that include: strengthening the relationships between IAAH and national associations for adolescent health (including the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine); establishing new partnerships within the UN community, NGOs and other youth-focused organisations; strengthening the participation of young people within IAAH through establishing a Young Professionals Network; and promoting communication with members by redesigning the website (including a new logo) and reinstating regular newsletters.

During this period, there has also been a stronger focus on regional conferences. The Oceania and European regions have held regular adolescent health meetings for many years, which have helped consolidate adolescent health in the host countries and regions, most recently in Chisinau, Moldova in 2018. Thanks to the efforts of IAAH’s vice president for North Africa, Dr Mamdouh Wahba, IAAH also convened the 1st Middle East and North Africa regional conference on adolescent health in Cairo, Egypt in 2017, followed by the 2nd IAAH MENA regional conference on adolescent health that was held in Muscat, Oman in 2018.

Within the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations Global Strategy on Women’s Children’s and Adolescents’ Health has brought unprecedented attention to adolescent health, including in low and middle income countries which have historically not focused on adolescent health and in which there are few investments and little technical and professional capacity. Never before has a globally-oriented professional association been so needed.

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