PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes is calling for greater awareness and investment in the health and wellbeing of young people.
At the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Congress on Adolescent and Youth Health, on Monday, at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, Weekes said, “We all play a role in improving the health and wellbeing of young people.
“Can we say without hesitation that we have done everything that needs to be done to ensure our children are given a firm foundation upon which to thrive? Can we even say that we have put our best foot forward in promoting their wellbeing so they can lead happy and healthy lives when they enter adulthood?”
In asking these questions for attendees to reflect on, Weekes said young people represent 25 per cent of the Caribbean’s population. She quoted 2007 World Bank estimates that two-thirds of premature deaths, and one-third of the total disease in adults are associated with conditions or behaviours that began during adolescence.
Saying, “I very much suspect that nothing has changed in the following years,” Weekes lamented, “It is critical that as small island developing states, we (the Caribbean) promote their (young people) health and wellbeing in order to fully realise their potential.
“Our children must therefore not accuse us of failing to take the appropriate steps to make our health policies and systems guarantee their welfare.”
While calling on policy- and decision-makers to create the necessary framework to ensure that young people can lead robust and productive lives, she also reminded parents of their responsibilities, saying, “Parents and teachers are fundamental to fostering good eating habits in their charges and monitoring their mental health.”
She also highlighted mental health, touching on recent controversies surrounding the Transformed Life Ministry Rehabilitation Centre in Arouca, as she said, “The circumstances were indeed regrettable, but let us not waste the opportunity to raise awareness and stimulate discussion on this burning issue. There is no better time than now.
“Our children contend with not only physical health challenges but also with mental health issues.”
With statistics putting the suicide rates of some Caribbean nations amongst the highest in the world, Weekes expressed concern and said more needs to be done.