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Investing in adolescent health can bring huge benefits

12 million adolescent deaths could be avoided over 15-year period

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Countries that invest in adolescent health and education could see a 10-fold economic benefit and millions of saved lives, claims a study* published today in The Lancet.

Researchers from Australia’s Victoria University, the University of Melbourne and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) found that investments in adolescent health and wellbeing were some of the best that could be made towards achieving global goals to cut poverty and guarantee healthy lives.

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with specific targets to be achieved by 2030 including reducing poverty, ending extreme poverty, ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing at all ages.

The 2016 Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing recommended increased investments to transform health, education, family, and legal systems.

The new study in The Lancet is said to complement the findings of the Lancet Commission and other reports by considering the economic and social benefits of specific investments to tackle determinants of adolescent health and capability.

The authors calculated the economic and social impact of health interventions aimed at improving maternal, newborn and reproductive health services, improved access to treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, depression, alcohol dependence and epilepsy, and expansion of HPV vaccinations.

They also calculated the impact of various education programmes and interventions to improve road safety.

The authors calculated that improving the physical, mental and sexual health of adolescents aged 10-19 years, at the cost of US $4.6 per person per year between 2015 and 2030, could bring a 10-fold economic benefit by averting 12 million adolescent deaths and preventing more than 30 million unwanted pregnancies in adolescents.

Similarly, investing to increase the extent and quality of secondary education, at a cost of US $22.6 per person per year over the same period, could generate economic benefits about 12 times higher and result in an additional 12 million formal jobs for people aged 20–24 years.

In addition, the study showed that investing in improving road safety, at US $0.60 per person per year, would give economic benefits about six times higher and prevent nearly 500,000 adolescent deaths by 2030.

The findings were published on the eve of the World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington, USA, where finance and development leaders from 188 countries will discuss the critical need for investment in adolescents.

Study lead author Professor Peter Sheehan of Victoria University in Melbourne, said: “Some of the best investments in adolescent health and wellbeing lie outside the health sector – tackling child marriage, reducing road injuries and improving education.

“There is little doubt that the actions outlined in our study could be delivered on a large scale in countries, transforming the lives of boys and girls around the world. The economic and social impacts of investments in adolescent health and wellbeing are high by any standards, and are among the best investments that the global community can make to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

UNFPA executive director Professor Babatunde Osotimehin said: “A small investment in empowering and protecting the world's over a billion adolescents can bring a ten-fold return, or sometimes even more. Our pioneering research must now be seen by policy makers, and used to chart the way forward.”

* Sheehan P, Sweeny K, Rasmussen B, et al. Building the foundations for sustainable development: a case for global investment in the capabilities of adolescents. The Lancet, 19 April 2017. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30872-3

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