Youth Leader in Action @ International Conference for Urban Health

“As one of the few youth present, I believe I helped contribute a significant youth voice to the conversations surrounding urban health and family planning,” stated Jillian Gedeon, co-founder and executive member of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP), after attending the International Conference for Urban Health. The Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project, in collaboration with IYAFP, supported Jillian in attending the four-day conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh May 24-27, 2015. In the blog post below, Jillian shares her experiences at the conference and growing knowledge of successful adolescent health programs in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a leader in global health, but is not getting the deserved recognition for making strides in development. Despite that less than 4% of the GDP in Bangladesh goes to health and corruption is still pervasive, organizations are working together to make a difference. Proof of this is the fact that Bangladesh has managed to reduce its poverty levels by 26% in only a decade! At the same time, Bangladesh also managed to reduce maternal mortality by 40% — partially due to a national family planning program that was introduced in 1979.

Being at the International Conference on Urban Health and engaging with many urban health leaders in Dhaka, I saw firsthand the passion and commitment people have toward Bangladesh. The sense of pride for their nation mixed with the altruistic desire to help others has led to outstanding work by organizations such as BRAC, The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh, BBC Media Action, and the USAID NGO Health Service Delivery Project.

Family planning and youth, a topic that I am very passionate about, was spotlighted at the conference. Researchers from Nigeria, Kenya, India, and Bangladesh spoke about access to family planning, availability of methods, effects of urbanization and family planning, and rural realities around maternal health. My presentation on the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP) at a conference session blended effectively with the overall conference theme of urban health. My contribution to the conference included the importance of youth and health, IYAFP’s goals and accomplishments, and a view into the work that youth around the world are doing regarding family planning. I shared stories about our members and country coordinators, as well as our goals around the upcoming International Conference on Family Planning and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The work that IYAFP is doing is just a piece of the larger puzzle of organizers focusing on youth and family planning. In Bangladesh, many people of all ages do not have basic knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. BBC Media supports a radio show called Dosh Unisher Mor which has reached 14 million adolescents, speaking on topics such as sexual and reproductive health, with a particular focus on puberty. In conjunction with UNFPA and Plan International, BBC Media asks youth to create 15 minutes segments for their program where experts answer youth’s questions about sexual and reproductive health on a weekly basis. What an amazing and innovate initiative! There is also an app and a website called Maya Apa (sister Maya), which addresses this knowledge gap by having doctors, social workers, child specialists, and public health workers answer anonymous sexual and reproductive health related questions in English, Bangla, and “Banglish.”

My experience at this conference has increased my passion for the amazing work that is being done in urban areas and in family planning. My fundamental belief that every women, man, and child has the right to accessible and affordable health and education has been reaffirmed by seeing all the work that is being done by various NGOs and government initiatives. I hope that the voice of adolescents and youth will continue to be heard and further incorporated into new initiatives.

Photo Credit: Jillian Gedeon

Author Profile: Jillian Gedeon completed a Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences from the University of Ottawa, Canada in 2014, where she researched women’s experiences with long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) on the Thailand-Burma border. She has been contributing to qualitative studies on women’s reproductive health for over 3 years, on topics ranging from abortion in Canada to medical education in Jordan. Her passion for reproductive health, coupled with her ability to connect with youth, has led her to mentor, train, and educate youth locally, nationally, and internationally. She is currently based in Mae Sot, Thailand as a Fellow with Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants (CRHC), specializing in reproductive health research and education.