Current health care for adolescents is substandard and fails to provide critical prevention and care services, say U.N. health officials, who’ve introduced new standards to improve their quality.
Young people between the ages of 10 and 19 confront many physical and emotional changes. They don’t like to be treated as children, yet they don’t know how to behave like adults.
The new standards' authors, at the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, say young people are vulnerable to particular health problems and many engage in behavior that can lead to disability or death.
Lifelong behaviors begin during puberty, says Anthony Costello, WHO's director of maternal, children’s and adolescents’ health.
"Thirty-five percent of the global burden of disease starts in adolescence," he said. "Mental health would be an area particularly where early intervention could make a great deal of difference to the life course ... and the future illnesses in adulthood."
Top causes of death
The authors cite the top three causes of death among adolescents, in descending order, as road traffic injuries, AIDS-related illnesses and suicide.
Adolescents are at high risk of HIV/AIDS because of risky behavior, said Dirk Van Hove, senior adviser to UNAIDS.
"About 30 cases of new infections among adolescents happen every hour," he said. "And, HIV among adolescents is still the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa and the second leading cause of death in the world."
The report finds that many adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders, substance abuse, poor nutrition, intentional injuries and chronic illness do not have access to critical prevention and care services.
The new standards recommend that adolescents be provided with free or low-cost consultations and age-appropriate medical information, and that they have access to health services without requiring parental consent.