Creating a Road Map: Championing Caribbean Adolescent and Youth Health





IAAH President, Susan Sawyer had this to say about her first visit to the Caribbean and her participation in the 1st IAAH Caribbean Regional Congress.

“Some meetings have a spark about them, an intangible energy that reflects both who is there as well as the anticipated future benefits. This was certainly the case for the 1st IAAH Caribbean Regional Congress for Adolescent Health which the IAAH Council was thrilled to support.

In my first visit to the Caribbean, I gained some appreciation of the numerous challenges the community faces that extend well beyond demography (60% of the Caribbean population is under 30). The impacts of interpersonal violence – for both adolescent boys and girls – and the challenge of early sexual debut in the context of lack of access to contraception were distressing; the task of legal reform that is required to advance adolescent health in every country is large; and a huge effort is required to train the next generation of health professionals.

Yet the Caribbean has many assets that provide confidence about the required responses. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) provides a framework for collaboration across the 20 countries, including for healthy adolescent development. The extent that the various UN agencies are supportive of adolescent health was notable. And I was impressed with the desire of the youth advocates to contribute to shaping their communities for the better (I was equally mesmerized by their dance moves after the conference dinner!).

One of the ways that IAAH enhances individual competencies, national capacity, and global investment in adolescent health is through expanding national and regional associations. Given the extent of Caribbean challenges, I was honoured to formally launch the Caribbean Association for Adolescent Health at the conference. While the power of associations often depends on the energy of a few key individuals, the leverage that associations can achieve within clinical, public health and legal systems reflects their capacity to amplify the efforts and influence of those same individuals.

IAAH has strong links with the Caribbean that extend back to Dr Sheila Forrester, the ‘grand dame’ of adolescent health from Jamaica, and that have more recently focused on a small band of highly capable adolescent health professionals in Trinidad, including IAAH’s current Caribbean vice-president (Asha Pemberton) and our past vice-president (Abigail Kong-Harrison). We are very proud of their efforts to promote the health of young people in the Caribbean.”

About the Author

Asha Pemberton, MBBS, DM (Paed) is a Paediatrician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist, a clinician, and an Associate Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Faculty of Medical Sciences. She is the IAAH Regional Vice President for the Caribbean and is a member of the IAAH Communications Committee.

Susan Sawyer, MBBS, MD, FRACP, FSAHM is a Professor and Director, Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia and the Geoff and Helen Handbury Chair of Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics, The University of Melbourne. She is the President of IAAH.

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