How invested are donors in adolescent health?

Adolescents make up one quarter of the world’s population, equating to approximately 1.8 billion people aged 10 – 24 years. They are our future, their health and wellbeing affects us on a wider scale as the diseases, injuries and mental illnesses that adolescent’s battle globally can compromise the standards in health care regarding their physical, cognitive and emotional growth, affecting their transition to adulthood.

The donor community have invested only 1.6% of the development health assistance on adolescent health, despite adolescents accounting for 30% of the population in low-income countries, and 11% of the disease burden!

In partnership with Harvard University, the Centre for Adolescent Health have published the Global Development Assistance for Adolescent Health from 2003 to 2015, which reveals a review of the health expenditure for adolescent health between 2003 -2015 in the latest issue of  JAMA Network Open.

The review highlights the key findings as to what specific adolescent health projects others received the most and least international assistance from donors. The projects were specifically targeted towards the benefit of adolescents as categorised in sectors of health, education, government and civil society, social infrastructures and services and others. 132 countries ranging from low-income to middle-income were analysed.

Prof George Patton, from the Centre for Adolescent Health and co-author for the paper has said “Of the little invested, most funds go to adolescents indirectly through programs for sexual and reproductive health and HIV, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. However a large number of young people in low-income countries are affected by poor nutrition, mental disorders, self-harm and road traffic injuries.”

The study highlights the need to reassess the current investments in adolescent health as there is an inequality amongst the distribution of funding, and adolescent burden of disease. Data from the paper reveals that 68% of adolescent investments went to sexual and reproductive health, including HIV and AIDS.

On the other end of the scale, adolescent-targeted projects that received the least investment or were overlooked entirely by donors were nutrition, mental disorders, self-harm and road traffic injuries. All of which greatly affect young people in low-income countries.

Although HIV and AIDS are areas which undeniably require attention and funding, donors must recognise that there are other areas in adolescent health that require just as much attention and investment to improve the standard for adolescent health, for their future health, their productivity and the healthy growth of their children.

“Adolescence lays a foundation for future health, quality-of-life and economic productivity. And it is therefore remarkable that this group has been so undervalued in international development.” Prof Patton.

Key points

  • Development assistance for adolescent health in 132 countries cumulatively accounted for only 1.6% of development health assistance.
  • The largest amount of development assistance for adolescent health went to HIV and AIDS (68%), while other leading causes of disease burden among adolescents, including anemia, road injuries, and depressive disorders, have been largely overlooked by donors.
  • As a global community over the 13 years, we spent $US0.15 per adolescent each year on developmental assistance for health ranging from $US0.46 in low income countries to $0.11 in low and middle income countries and $0.05 in upper middle income countries.


Young people missing out on foreign aid funding: report | SBS news

Meager Funds | Harvard Medical School 

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