Youth Spoke Up to Step Up the Pace on NCDs

This blog was written by Victoria Watson, member of NCD Child’s Governing Council as part of Global Health Council’s Member Spotlight series. Victoria has been contributing to their youth engagement work since 2015. Outside of this work, she works as a policy coordinator at Cancer Care Ontario supporting screening program design. NCD Child is a global multi-stakeholder coalition championing the rights and needs of children, adolescents, and young people living with or are at risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCD Child is a 2018 Global Health Council member.

For the global health community, the start of the new year signals a time of escalated efforts around the NCD target in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2017 we saw unprecedented collaboration among governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society to prepare for the 3rd High-level Meeting (HLM) of the UNGA on NCDs. These synergies culminated at the end of 2017 during the Second Global Alliance Forum in Sharjah, UAE.  Among the 300+ delegates included more than 20 young advocates — a step in the right direction for putting youth needs at the forefront of NCD control priority-setting for years to come.

Turning the tides for NCD prevention and control in 2018

It is recognized that youth – children, adolescents, and young people – require unique healthcare services. This creates the imperative to carve out a space for their specific needs to be addressed within NCD target related commitments, policies, and dialogue to positively impact their health outcomes. To create such a space for youth, a committee led by NCD Child, alongside representatives from NCDFREE, IFMSA, the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, and others recruited 20 talented, diverse participants to join the conversation in Sharjah.  The Youth Planning Committee had a clear charge: identify practical strategies to engage young people before, during, and after the Forum.  We began with a pre-forum workshop which sought to identify shared priorities and approaches for ensuring youth have a seat at the table among civil society organizations and governments.  It was a great space to hear directly from our colleagues on why young people need to be included in both the making of policy and within policy.

Following energetic discussions, negotiation, and compromise, a set of 3 priorities were put forward in the Call to Action: Youth, NCDs, & 2018.

1) Ensure universal and equitable access to high-quality, affordable, age-appropriate health care
2) Scale up financing and resources for prevention, management, and treatment of NCDs across the life-course
3) Raise awareness of children, adolescents, and young people, and sensitize government officials about the risk factors, prevalence, and impact of NCDs

The call to action and the collaboration that informed it signifies a milestone in moving youth from the periphery to the center of global dialogue. But can a milestone be transformed into sustained action? 

Sustaining Engagement

As we planned for our workshop, a question loomed over us: how can we leverage the renewed sense of enthusiasm generated by the forum to ensure our priorities and activities have sustained impact in 2018, for the UN HLM and beyond?

We did not want our call to action to be lost in a vacuum of an ongoing dialogue. We wanted to ensure our champions were given the resources and support to continue their engagement in advocating for, and creating change around NCD prevention and control. Most of all, we wanted to continue the heightened level of collaboration and action established among participants during the workshop.

The planning committee spent a lot of time thinking about sustainability, next steps, and going beyond ‘just talking.’  A simple outline helped guide our post-forum efforts – both for the participants and the many youth champions who were not in Sharjah.  Before the event, NCD Child developed Youth Voices Connect, an online community for youth advocates to share ideas on a real-time basis. Using insights gained from the online community and our own experiences, the committee identified four core principles to help us ensure the shared priorities and activities (developed in Sharjah) become a reality in 2018.

Photo credit: NCD Child

What’s Next: Taking Action

Along with shared priorities, the Call to Action outlines four key action items, linked to the shared priorities, for youth and relevant stakeholders.  The action items align with our core principles for sustained, meaningful impact.  To continue the conversation and ensure the youth component is not buried in the follow-up, we’ve encouraged our delegates to write blogs from their experience.  We want to take our communications further and help develop aligned messages for youth leaders to disseminate locally.  A policy working group is in the making – resources will be developed and reviewed by youth.  We need more young leaders to speak up about NCD financing; to help facilitate, a simple-language toolkit will be created ahead of the April financing meeting.  Finally, we need to be speaking to our government leaders more often and with more concise, effective talking points.

The committee is moving forward with four small working groups to take these ambitious activities from paper to reality. Being successful requires engaging youth stakeholders from all corners of the globe, not only those who attended the forum, and supporting such youth as we pursue meaningful, sustained action in 2018.

Photo credit: NCD Child

What can you do to support the inclusion of youth?

This commitment to engaging youth in the transformation of NCD prevention and control requires action from all sectors. Having youth voices formally recognized by NCD stakeholders and brought in to dialogue is a critical step in ensuring our needs can be represented appropriately in policy.

Here are a few ways individuals and organizations can contribute:

1) Invite young people to author blogs for your website; share the piece broadly with your network
2) Put youth on the program of every high-level side event, conference, or panel you’re hosting – engage early and ensure they are on the agenda
3) Emphasize the importance of youth inclusion in discussions with the Ministry of Health, civil society, and private sector
4) Connect with NCD Child for additional support and resources.