Health: The Big Picture

A health worker (right) marks the finger of a toddler with indelible ink, indicating she has received a dose of polio vaccine, in a camp for people displaced by flooding, in the town of Bin Qasim, in Sindh Province. © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0187/Asad Zaidi


What is Health?


The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.


What health issues affect young people the most?

In the early years of life, children are very vulnerable to infectious diseases. Consequently, for children under 5 years old, the leading causes of death are pneumonia, diarrheal diseases, malaria and HIV, and the risk of death is highest in the first month and first year of life. These infectious diseases are most often associated with underlying malnutrition, contaminated drinking water, and indoor air pollution. In the last decade, however, the world has seen a lot of progress in improving the health of young children through vaccinations,
treatment of infections, nutritional supplements, improved water supplies and environmental sanitation, and the prevention of HIV transmission from mothers to their children.

As children enter into adolescence and youth, they face a new set of health challenges. These challenges are more linked to behavior and the unprotected environment around them, and include, injuries from accidents, tobacco and substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and mental health issues. Consequently, accidents and related injuries are, the leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.

Barriers to health

Despite the magnitude of ill health and disability among the youth, most young people are not aware of the specific health issues that affect youth, and the risk factors associated with their health. This situation calls for intensified efforts to increase awareness about their health issues. Young people, especially in developing countries, encounter barriers in accessing health services. Many health facilities and communities do not have confidential and youth-friendly services where young people feel comfortable in seeking care, and those who seek care are often confronted with negative attitudes from health-care providers. Additionally, many young people do not have the financial resources to enable them to seek care on their own, and restrictive laws and policies often require a parent or husband’s written permission to access services.

Harmful traditional practices such as child marriage also contribute to poor health among young people, including sexually transmitted infections and complications of pregnancy. When young girls become pregnant before they themselves grow up, both they and their children face an uphill battle to survive and achieve their optimum developmental potential.

Emerging issues

Mental health is increasingly gaining recognition as a major problem globally. Recent reports from WHO indicate that mental disorders and psychosocial distress are affecting millions of children and adolescents in all parts of the world. Suicide and depression are alarmingly common among both rich and poor and in both urban and rural environments. New evidence shows that most mental health problems that continue through adulthood are manifest before the age of 14, suggesting that mental health assessment in childhood could
provide early warning and early treatment, possibly diminishing the impact in later life. It is estimated that one in five adolescents will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime, and yet they are less likely than adults to recognize the symptoms of mental disorders or seek treatment.

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