Ghana, has for a long time now, acknowledged the need of taking care of the health and development of its adolescents. Recognising that adolescents are a valuable resource to the nation’s future the country , as far back as 1980, undertook a number of initiatives culminating in the launching of the National Adolescent Health and Development Programme (ADHD) in 2001. A seven year (2009-2015) National ADHD Strategic Plan was subsequently developed in 2009.
The strategy sought to provide multi-sectoral support to every young person living in Ghana with education and information that will lead to the adoption of healthy lifestyle physically, psychologically and socially. This was to be achieved through the provision of age and sex appropriate information and counselling, comprehensive health services complemented by self-care, livelihood and leadership skills training and empowerment.
Undoubtedly, adolescents comprise a significant proportion of the country’s population.
As this cohort joins the workforce, the foundations laid in health will have profound implications for social, political and economic development. This is particularly important given the declining fertility and mortality trends in Ghana.
Furthermore, healthy adolescents are a key asset and resource with great potential to contribute to their families, communities and the nation both at present and in the future as actors in social change, and not simply beneficiaries of social programmes.
There is no gainsaying this group goes through a lot of physical and psychological changes that affect their growth and development. Young people often lack knowledge of their rights and services available to them. They therefore need to be counselled and guided in the right direction and this can only be achieved if the required polices, strategies and programmes are in place.
Additionally, there is the need to create a safe and supportive environment that ensures access to appropriate information and the provision of health facilities that promote counselling on mental health, nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, and the active participation of young people in programmes affecting them
This calls for an expansion of access to adolescent reproductive health services. The health sector has a key role to ensure that the necessary policies and strategies are developed and implemented to address the psycho-social needs of these adolescents.
Thus, in spite of the gains made over the past decades, it has become imperative that a new Adolescent Health Service Policy and Strategy for the period 2016-2020 is developed to help guide programmes and mitigate the dual challenge that the country faces from the emerging health threats as well as those from the unfinished agenda of preventing death and infectious diseases among the large adolescent population.
It is in this vein that the UKaid, WHO, UNICEF, the Palladium Group and partners recently provided support to the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to develop a new service policy and strategy for Ghana’s Adolescent Health and Development Programme (ADHD). The aim of the service policy and strategy is to provide the framework within which health service provision and other health related interventions for adolescents and young people would be coordinated and implemented. This is to ensure efficient use of resources towards achieving the overall health sector goals for adolescents and young people.
The formulation of the strategy is informed by the findings of the ADHD programme evaluation conducted from January to March 2016 and the revised National Adolescent Health Policy (2016). It reflects some of Ghana’s new health commitments and the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals to provide the enabling environment for quality health service delivery for the adolescents.
Vision, Goal & Strategic Objectives
The vision of the strategy is to improve the health status of adolescents through equitable access to appropriate, comprehensive, gender-sensitive, quality and cost effective adolescent and youth responsive information, education and services., with the goal to embrace the health status and quality of life of the young people to contribute towards realisation of their full potential in national development through mainstreaming information and gender-sensitive and responsive health services.
The strategic objectives are to improve access to information on health and health services relevant to the age and gender specific needs of adolescents and young people to enable them make informed decisions, build the capacity of health service providers to enable them have the required knowledge, skills and a positive attitude towards the provision of effective adolescent and youth responsive services at all levels and improve access to specified package to health services that are of high quality, gender sensitive, disability-responsive in an appropriate environment at all levels.
Others are to develop and advocate for relevant enabling environment including protective health policies, and legislative framework to support the provision of ADHD at all services delivery and management points, promote partnership and inter-sectoral collaboration among adolescent and youth groups, relevant institutions and communities in the provision and utilisation of Adolescent and Youth Responsive Health Service and develop innovative strategies to address financial barriers for ADHD.
According to the new policy, effort will be made through Social and Behavioural Change Communication (SBCC) strategies to change the underlying norms and attitudes that perpetuate poor health outcomes for young people.
Specific to sexual health, comprehensive sexuality education programmes will focus on providing accurate information about human sexuality; providing an opportunity for young people to develop and understand their values, attitudes, and beliefs about sexuality; helping young people develop relationships and interpersonal skills; and exercising responsibility regarding sexual relationships, including addressing abstinence, pressures to become prematurely involved in sexual intercourse, and the use of contraception and other sexual health measures. The special SBCC needs of people with disability and the vulnerable will also be addressed.
The necessary enabling policy and legal environment conducive for implementing ADHD will be developed and advocacy activities conducted.
Activities will include advocacy towards the enforcement of existing policies conducive for ADHD as well as advocating against practices inimical to the health of adolescents such early and forced marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, child labour and violence against adolescents.
Appropriate governance structures will also be established at all levels to promote joint planning and transparency and innovative resource mobilisation strategies and implemented them to mobilise adequate, stable and predictable financial and in-kind resources in support of ADHD.