Empowering adolescents to lead change using health data
The health and wellbeing of adolescents play a critical role in their overall growth and development. However, the lack of comprehensive local data on adolescent health, particularly in lower-resource settings is hampering efforts to promote healthy behaviors and policies for adolescents, especially those in schools.
To fill this gap and generate new data and information, World Health Organization (WHO) with support from Botnar Foundation is implementing a project dubbed “Empowering adolescents to lead change using health data” with the aim of generating adolescent health information from students in cities across four low- and middle-income countries, comprising Fez, Morocco; Jaipur, India; Saint Catherine Parish, Jamaica; and Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana.
This initiative leveraged existing WHO tools such as the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) to assess health behaviours and protective factors among students, and the Global School Health Policies and Practices Survey (G-SHPPS) to assess school policies that promote the health of students.
In Ghana, this initiative, which is being implemented in partnership with the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Education Service has empowered adolescents in the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis to have a voice on their health needs and contribute to developing sustainable solutions towards overcoming health barriers.
“Previously, my friends and I only discussed some of these challenges among ourselves in secret,” said Samuel Quayson, a 15 year old student at the Nana Badu Bonso Junior High School in Takoradi. “I am happy that for the first time, we had an opportunity to voice it out through the surveys that were conducted and now we are being involved in discussions with decision makers.”
Findings from the studies that were conducted revealed significant mental health challenges among adolescents, with a quarter of the students surveyed reporting to have attempted suicide. The students also identified domestic violence school bullying and cyberbullying as some of the challenges affecting their health and wellbeing.
Throughout the process, WHO provided financial and technical support to train 25 data collectors. WHO in partnership with UNESCO and the University of Bern also convened a data-to-action workshop to engage stakeholders, including students, Heads of Schools and others on leveraging the findings to implement interventions for improved health outcomes of adolescents.
School health authorities in the Western Region described the findings as significant to ongoing efforts to improve adolescent health.
“Indeed, through this initiative, WHO did not only help us to appreciate the challenges but also how we can collaborate to overcome them,” said Ruth Adu, the Western Regional School Health Education Programme Coordinator “This will have far-reaching implications for school-based adolescent health around the country.”
Dr Joana Ansong, the Noncommunicable Disease and Risk Factors Officer at WHO Ghana agreed, noting that the significance of this initiative transcends the boundaries of the schools that were surveyed.
“As WHO, we are interested in using the information from the students to co-create with partners, implement and subsequently evaluate a package of interventions to improve health outcomes of adolescents,” she stated.
Whilst Victoria Celine Ntem, a 13-year-old student at the Takoradi Presbyterian Junior High School is worried about the findings of the study, she is happy to have discussed this with decision makers and will do her part to promote healthy behaviors among her peers.
“I knew of some of these challenges, but findings on suicide attempts and mental health really scares me,” she said. “Though our teachers and parents have committed to addressing them, I will be talking to my friends about them so that we can help each other to overcome these challenges”.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.