This is a guest blog by Youth Leader for Nutrition Florence Sibomana. The Youth Leaders for Nutrition programme was launched in 2018 by the SUN Civil Society Network, in partnership with Save the Children UK, RESULTS UK, and Global Citizen. Florence is a doctor based in Rwanda, with a passion for global health and social justice.
The world is home to 1.2 billion adolescents, and more than one in six people globally is aged between 10 and 19 years. The proportion is higher in some low- and middle-income countries, and the number of adolescents is expected to rise considerably by 2050. In Rwanda, young people make up one third of the whole population. However, adolescents’ health and nutrition needs are not being met. 1.2 million adolescents die each year, mostly from preventable causes. Adolescents and their health needs are diverse, and each year, 12 million adolescents aged 15 -19 give birth, a time when good nutrition is essential.
Adolescence is a critical window of growth and developmental changes, as it is the transition from childhood to adulthood. During adolescence, there is a high need for nutrients for growth during puberty and brain maturation, increasing their nutrition needs. In this quick transformative window of adolescence, there are different factors affecting health and nutrition and it can pose a real struggle to stay healthy and well nourished. Adolescent girls can be particularly affected by the changes in their bodies, especially during menstruation when the need for iron-rich food increases.
As a young female medical doctor who has grown up and lived in the community where I face these realities, I have decided to give back to the community through an initiation of the youth-powered Nutrition programme under Rwanda’s Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance. I established a network of 30 district youth champions to advocate for adolescent health and nutrition. They received training on nutrition, gender, sexual and reproductive health, and advocacy tips. Throughout the process, I have learnt an important lesson: The power of knowledge for young people’s behaviour change towards healthy lifestyles. Safe space and support are essential for young people to grow healthy and to optimize their full potential in life.
Investing in adolescents’ health and nutrition has the potential to deliver a triple dividend: improving their well-being now, enhancing their future life chances, and boosting outcomes for the next generation of children. I urge the UK, despite their missed opportunity at N4G, to prioritise adolescents’ health and nutrition needs.
Partnering with young people means choosing, designing and implementing programmes fitted for them, and to support adolescents’ health and future.