When we seek to understand the effects of the pandemic, the voices of youth are rarely called upon. Yet youth have been among some of the most affected by lockdown policies, school closings, and delayed early childhood medical care. However, the resilience of this population cannot be overstated. When we look at steps towards response and recovery from the pandemic, the voices of youth should not only be considered but amplified.
On August 12, 2021, Global Health Council hosted a community focus group discussion of 20 participants aimed at understanding the effects, beyond what is shown in the data, of COVID-19 on youth. This session included a panel of youth speakers/co-facilitators working in youth targeted organizations from Kenya, Cameroon, and the United States. Participants were then given a deep dive into a newly launched Health For All Advocacy Toolkit (Co-developed by CSEM, GHC, and other partners) to provide youth with resources to amplify their advocacy.
Below are some key takeaways from the focus group:
- “Youth are suffering in silence” due to depression, anxiety, and overall mental health issues;
- Youth do not feel empowered to talk about mental health because they feel it is not as important given that people are dying from COVID-19;
- Stay at home orders have also led to social media addiction, laziness, and immobility which has exacerbated depression.
- Youth rely heavily on social media channels as a source of information and as a platform for information dissemination. In some countries, government restrictions of information have presented a barrier for youth advocates and increased distrust;
- Youth play a vital role in information dissemination for their families, elders, and communities. By ensuring that youth are informed by science, educated, and brought into public health recommendations, we can help to combat intergenerational hesitancy and distrust of the medical system.
Children and Young Girls:
- Non-essential medical treatment delays have led to a widening gap in childhood vaccination, especially in developing countries;
- Lockdown policies and school closures led to a loss of safe spaces for girls. This resulted in an uptick in child marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence. These issues are further compounded by a reduction in access to family planning and reproductive health services.
- Loss of jobs and family income have led youth to have to leave school for work to sustain their families;
- Online learning has excluded youth that do not have access to the internet and other online tools and technologies;
- We need to consider the voices of adolescents, particularly late adolescents when forming policies related to their bodily autonomy and role in their healthcare;
- Stakeholders (donors, CSOs, and governments) need to invest in developing youth advocates.
Results from this workshop will be included in a GHC publication focused on inequities across marginalized populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. GHC will share messages and key takeaways from this event with policymakers and key stakeholders in an event this Spring 2022 to ensure these influencers understand how to better support the youth population. Further, GHC will use takeaways from these sessions to advocate and support youth as we continue to respond to the pandemic.
GHC will be continuing this series of focus groups with black, Latino, LGBTQI+, Indigenous/First National, Women, Elderly, Refugees/immigrant, and Asian communities, to name a few. If you or a partner organization are interested in co-hosting, speaking, and/or participating in any of these sessions, please contact Eliana Monteforte at email@example.com.