The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that half of all deaths of young people, aged between 10-24, in the Caribbean are due to homicide, road traffic fatalities and suicide – all of which are preventable.
PAHO in a report titled “The Health of Adolescents and Youth in the Americas: Implementation of the Regional Strategy and Plan of Action on Adolescent and Youth Health 2010-2018,” analyzes the latest available data related to the health of young people from 48 countries and territories in the Americas, including the Caribbean.
The report includes information on what the young people die from, what illnesses they suffer from, their sexual and reproductive health, substance use, nutrition and levels of physical activity.
“While progress has been made across the region towards ensuring greater access to health care, many of the interventions to prevent young people from dying before their time fall outside the health sector”, said Dr Carissa F. Etienne, the Dominican-born director of PAHO.
“We must increase efforts across all sectors to ensure that young people not only survive, but thrive,” she added.
PAHO said around 237 million young people aged 10-24 years live in the Americas, comprising a quarter of the region’s population and that, despite representing such a huge priority demographic, however, youth mortality rates have only slightly reduced between 2000 and 2015.
The report outlines six recommendations on how to improve the health of young people in the region.
These include: ensuring that adolescent and youth health programs are well-funded and involve other sectors besides health; fostering health systems that respond to youth needs; using evidence-based approaches that target vulnerable groups; implementing monitoring and evaluation programs so that continual improvements are made; building capacity for those who work with young people; and empowering and engaging young people as agents of change in their communities and countries.
The report notes that the three leading causes of death among young people are all preventable. Homicide is the top killer, accounting for 24 per cent of mortality, followed by road traffic fatalities at 20 per cent and suicide at 7 percent.
The report shows that a significant number of young people in the region continue to suffer from poor health, with more vulnerable groups such as indigenous; Afro-descendent; lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ); and migrant young people being particularly impacted.
“Countries must take action so that all young people, including the most vulnerable, have access to the health services they need, with no one left behind,” said Dr. Sonja Caffe, regional advisor on adolescent health at PAHO, adding “a healthier youth will ensure healthier adults in the future.”
The report notes that 80 per cent of the 230,000 deaths per year of young people in the region occur among males, including nine out of 10 deaths due to homicide, four out of five road transit fatalities, and three out of four suicides.
Homicide rates in young men, aged 10-24 years, ranged from 3 per 100,000 in Honduras to 121.3 per 100,000 in the Bahamas in 2013-2014, the report says.
For women, the report says the rates varied – from 0.2 per 100,000 in Honduras to 21.1 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“It is important that countries acknowledge that the higher mortality rates seen among young men is due, in part, to the pressure they face to adhere to gender norms that may contribute to harmful behaviours such as aggression and risk-taking,” Dr. Caffe said.
“This is why it is so important that health works with families, schools and communities, in order to tackle the social norms that impact their physical and mental health.”
Suicide rates also continue to increase throughout the region. The report notes that while more young women attempt suicide, more young men die from it.
It states suicide rates among women, aged 10-24 years, ranged from 0.7 per 100,000 in Puerto Rico to 19.4 per 100,000 in French Guiana in 2013-2014.
For men, the rates vary from 1.6 per 100,000 in Honduras to 51.6 per 100,000 in French Guiana.
The report states Latin America and the Caribbean has the second-highest adolescent pregnancy rate in the world, estimated at 66.5 births per 1,000 girls, aged 15-19, for 2010-2015, compared to a worldwide average of 46 births per 1,000 girls.
While the total number of children per adult woman has declined in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past 30 years, the rates of adolescent pregnancy have barely reduced.
PAHO said Latin America and the Caribbean is also the only region to experience a rising trend in adolescent pregnancies among girls younger than 15 years. A few countries, however, are beginning to see faster declines in their adolescent pregnant rates.
The report notes that the percentage of tobacco users among adolescents, aged 13-17 years in the Americas, ranges from 1.9 per cent in Canada to 28.7 per cent in Jamaica.