Adolescent Wellbeing: A Call for Urgent Action

Over one billion adolescents aged 10-19 years worldwide are at a risk due to the COVID-19 and climate change.  During the second wave in India, effects on younger individuals and children are comparatively higher who are showing mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19 and such a situation calls for urgent action on adolescent wellbeing. 


In an open letter published by The BMJ- a weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal- Governments and health leaders have warned that the current generation of adolescents - 1.2 billion people aged 10-19 worldwide - “are at risk of inheriting a world blighted by climate change and scarred by Covid-19.” 

The 30 signatories include Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand,  Board Chair - Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) ; TedrosAdhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organization (WHO); Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and 27 other representatives from the United Nations (UN) and its related agencies, youth-led organisations, civil society, foundations, academia, and government representatives in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe. 

This open letter is significant at a time when India is witnessing the second wave of Covid-19 and consistently recording the highest number of daily cases globally, surpassing the US and Brazil on an average. During the second wave, Covid-19 effects on younger individuals and children are comparatively higher who are showing mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19. Earlier, children, below 18 years of age, who tested positive for the infection largely remained asymptomatic.

As of now, vaccines are only permitted to be administered to people over the age of 45 years. Although adolescents have been spared the most severe direct effects of the pandemic, the indirect effects on their wellbeing are devastating. 

The open letter endorses the 2019 Call to Action for Adolescent Wellbeing, which saw an unprecedented coalition of governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, working closely with adolescents and young people, commit to a new definition and conceptual framework for adolescent wellbeing developed by PMNCH (Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health) to inform policies and programming, and pushed for a global UN Summit in 2023 to advance this important agenda.

They explain that, even before covid-19, adolescents and young adults faced many challenges to their wellbeing, including social injustice and inequalities, inadequate mental health, and a crisis of connection to family, community and society, with increasing numbers living on the streets or dropping out of school.

Yet between 2003 and 2015, development assistance for adolescent health accounted for only 1.6% of total development assistance for health, despite a third of the total global burden of disease estimated to have roots in adolescence.

When adolescents move into young adulthood, many face unemployment or unstable employment, they add. In 2017, 34% of young women and 10% of young men aged 15-24 years were not in employment, education or training, with more pronounced disparities in northern Africa and southern Asia. And even among employed adolescents and young adults, an increasing proportion have poor job security, variable weekly earnings, and minimal or no health or social security coverage.

“These examples show that, as a global community, we have paid insufficient attention to the multidimensional and intersectional nature of adolescent wellbeing and the importance of the transition to young adulthood,” they write. As a result, they have committed to a call to action for adolescent wellbeing to ensure that today's adolescents are empowered to solve the problems they are inheriting.

Underpinning this is a new agreed definition and conceptual framework for adolescent wellbeing to inform policies and programming. This framework includes good health and optimum nutrition; connectedness, positive values, and contribution to society; safety and a supportive environment; learning, competence, education, skills, and employability; and agency and resilience.

“We invite everyone – decision makers, policy makers, civil society, service providers, educators, donors, innovators, and, most importantly, adolescents themselves – to support this call to action,” they write. “Together, we can ensure that it results in concrete policies, integrated programmes, and sustained investments for adolescent wellbeing.”

They stress that adolescents, youth and youth led organisations “are at the heart of this initiative and will continue to be so.” But they say “we all have a part to play in achieving these goals if we are to deliver a more equitable and inclusive world for this and future generations.”

In Germany, Preschool children showed an antibody frequency of 5.6 per cent from October 2020 to February 2021. Among school children who were tested between November 2020 and February 2021, the figure was as high as 8.4 per cent.