GHANA —The World Health Organization (WHO) has received support from Foundation Botnar to implement a project aimed at promoting healthy behaviors and policies for adolescents.

The project, titled “Empowering Adolescents to lead change using health data,” seeks to generate adolescent information from students in four low- and middle-income countries: Fez in Morocco, Jaipur in India, Saint Catherine Parish in Jamaica, and Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana.

Fondation Botnar, a Swiss philanthropic foundation dedicated to improving the health and well-being of young people in cities worldwide, has been instrumental in advocating for youth voices and the equitable use of AI and digital technology.

The foundation invests in innovative programs, research, and fosters dialogue and partnerships across sectors.

Recognizing the critical role of adolescent health and well-being in global growth and development, WHO, with support from Foundation Botnar, aims to address the lack of comprehensive local data on adolescents’ health, particularly in low- and middle-income country settings.

This lack of data poses a significant obstacle to promoting healthy behaviors and policies, especially in schools.

To overcome these challenges, the initiative leverages existing WHO tools such as the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) and the Global School Health Policies and Practices Survey (G-SHPPS). These tools assess health behaviors, protective factors, and school policies that promote student health.

In Ghana, the initiative is implemented in collaboration with the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Education Service.

It has empowered adolescents in the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis to voice their health needs and contribute to developing sustainable solutions to overcome health barriers.

Samuel Quayson, a 15-year-old student at Nana Badu Bonso Junior High School in Takoradi, expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the surveys and engage in discussions with decision-makers.

He highlighted that previously, discussions about health challenges were held in secrecy among friends, but now they have a platform to address adolescent health issues openly.

Findings from the studies conducted revealed significant mental health challenges among adolescents, with a quarter of the students surveyed reporting having attempted suicide.

The students also identified domestic violence, school bullying, and cyberbullying as challenges affecting their health and well-being.

Throughout the process, WHO provided financial and technical support to train 25 data collectors.

The organization, in collaboration with UNESCO and the University of Bern, organized a data-to-action workshop to engage stakeholders, including students and school heads, on leveraging the findings to implement interventions for improved health outcomes of adolescents.

Health authorities and educators in Ghana’s Western Region commended the significance of the findings and their implications for ongoing efforts to improve adolescent health.

Ruth Adu, the Western Regional School Health Education Programme Coordinator, expressed appreciation for WHO’s support in addressing the challenges and fostering collaboration.

Dr. Joana Ansong, the Noncommunicable Disease and Risk Factors Officer at WHO Ghana, emphasized that the impact of this initiative extends beyond the surveyed schools, having far-reaching implications for school-based adolescent health across the country.

Victoria Celine Ntem, a 13-year-old student at Takoradi Presbyterian Junior High School, expressed her concern and determination to address the revealed challenges by discussing them with her friends and collectively overcoming them.

Addressing adolescent health issues in Africa is of utmost importance due to the region’s large and rapidly growing adolescent population.

The Tropical Medicine and International Health Journal highlights the increased attention given to adolescent health globally, with initiatives such as the United Nations Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health and the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the largest proportion of adolescents among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Regions, addressing adolescent health is crucial.

The AA-HA! Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents emphasizes the need for evidence-based interventions against major causes of disease burden among adolescents.

To achieve this, programs must consider direct and indirect causes of national disease burden and risk factors.

Previous programs often neglected contributors such as road traffic injuries, interpersonal violence, mental health, risky behaviors, and access to contraception.

Comprehensive interventions encompassing health-related and social approaches are necessary to reduce risks and enhance the health and resilience of adolescents and young adults.

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