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Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2020 Feb 7. pii: /j/ijamh.ahead-of-print/ijamh-2019-0171/ijamh-2019-0171.xml. doi: 10.1515/ijamh-2019-0171. [Epub ahead of print]

Strengthening health care worker engagement with early adolescence in low- and middle-income countries: an overdue area for action.

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Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA.
Population Council, Nairobi, Kenya.
NFCC, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Ministry of Health, Nairobi, Kenya.
WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research/Human Reproduction Programme, Geneva, Switzerland.


The very young adolescent population (ages 10-14) is currently under-served by health care systems, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Although there is a substantial and growing effort to reach adolescents with the health services and commodities they need, such efforts often overlook the period of early adolescence given this population's lower vulnerability to risk-taking behaviors. However, early adolescence is a period of significant change, with the onset of puberty introducing physiological, emotional, and social changes in girls' and boys' lives. This period also represents a time of intensifying gendered norms, and the transition of youth from childhood focused health care (e.g. deworming programs, nutrition interventions) to additional mid- and older adolescent related care [e.g. human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, and contraceptive provision). Strengthening young adolescents' engagement with health care workers around preventative and promotive health behaviors could have profound impacts on their health and wellbeing, which in turn could have cascading effects across the course of their lives. Critically, young adolescents would gain trust in health care systems, and be more likely to return when significant health issues arise later in adolescence or adulthood. Such an effort requires sensitizing health care workers and building their capacity to respond to young adolescents' unique needs, by defining a package of actions that they are mandated to provide, training them, providing them with desk reference tools, and putting in place systems to provide supportive supervision and collaborative learning on the one hand, and encouraging caregivers to connect their pubescent-aged boys and girls with the health care system, on the other hand. This paper presents an argument for increased focus in particular on building attitudes and capacities of health care workers on engaging with early adolescents, applying Principle 3 of the Society of Adolescent Medicine's position paper entitled "Health Care Reform and Adolescents."


adolescent health; adolescents; health care professionals


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