The “Appel de Dakar:" Improving Youth And Adolescent Health Across West Africa

Alison Collins

Project Officer

Gilles Bokpe

Senior Technical Advisor
Participants at the validation workshop of the Regional Youth Sexual Reproductive Health Strategy in Dakar, Sénégal on June 28-29, 2016. (Photo: MSH Staff)
Participants at the validation workshop of the Regional Youth Sexual Reproductive Health Strategy in Dakar, Sénégal on June 28-29, 2016. (Photo: MSH Staff)

On June 28-29, 2016, more than 80 participants in a workshop in Dakar, Sénégal—including national leaders in youth and adolescents, regional and international partners, Ministers of Health and Education from all Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries, regional civil society organization representatives, and representatives from the West African Health Organization (WAHO)—pledged to improve the health of adolescents and youth throughout the region. Called the “Appel de Dakar,” this Call to Action encourages countries to improve policies and programs and establish an institutional base responsible for adolescents and youth, while urging member countries and their technical and financial partners to provide the resources necessary to change the lives of this important part of the population.

Youth between the ages of 10-24 years account for almost one-third of the total population of ECOWAS, representing about 100 million out of a total population of 335 million people (as of 2014). Despite their sheer numbers, they lag behind in terms of health. The three major causes of mortality among adolescents and youth in the ECOWAS region are: complications during pregnancy and delivery, HIV, and motor accidents.  Faced with this situation, WAHO led the charge up to the Call for Action to create a guide that its member countries could use to develop their own national strategies for adolescent health. The USAID-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance Project in West Africa provided support to WAHO during each phase of this process, from an initial situational analysis through the development of the regional strategy guide and its validation in Dakar. Below is testimony from partners and stakeholders participating in the Dakar workshop:

Young women at an art festival in Sénégal. (Photo: MSH Staff)
Young women at an art festival in Sénégal. (Photo: MSH Staff)

“It is a joy to see this renewed collective interest [for adolescent health], a topic that has been a major priority [for the West Africa region] for several years. After Dakar, there will be a harmonized vision for the development of [country-level] strategies to benefit youth and adolescents, populations whose specific needs are not always met with national policies.”
- Elsa Burzinsky, Policy Officer with the NGO Equilibre & Population

“I am very impressed by the exchanges [in Dakar]. I see representatives from various Governments and civil society showing great interest in the guide. Youth in the region have urgent needs to which we must respond. My vision is that the guide will be used by stakeholders, including young people, to develop strategic plans and programs that will really meet their needs to improve their health.”
- Katie Chau, Senior Youth Advisor with the Evidence to Action (E2A) Project

“I think this work has potential to transform the life of adolescents and youth in the ECOWAS Region. It is creating a platform that [we] can use as an advocacy tool to generate and drive political will to harness the potential of key stakeholders in collaborating in order to ensure a better future for youth in the ECOWAS Region.”
- Dr. Dorothy Esangbedo, President of Union of National African Pediatric Societies and Associations (UNAPSA) and Chair of the Gavi CSO Steering Committee

“The presence of representatives from the Ministries of Education, Health, and Civil Society to discuss adolescent health is very positive. With this guide, we have a solid base which gives clear directions [to ECOWAS member countries]. We will distribute this guide and use it as a tool for working with various Ministries.”
- Regional Counselor for HIV and Health Education in West and Central Africa, UNESCO

“I welcome WAHO developing this guide. This document is so rich… Let’s now move forward [in a] constructive way to develop national strategies.”
- Shirley S. Fahnbulleh, Workshop Chairman and Director of the School of Higher Education, Liberia

Young women at an art festival in Sénégal. (Photo: MSH Staff)
Young women at an art festival in Sénégal. (Photo: MSH Staff)

This guide can be used by countries whose national strategies for adolescent health are ending, in progress, or just starting up. ECOWAS member countries now have a valuable resource—the Regional Youth Sexual Reproductive Health strategy guide—to develop and operationalize their own national strategies, with the overall goal of continuing to improve the health of youth and adolescents in the region.