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The Child and Adolescent Health Department from the Ministry of Public Health together with UNFPA, WHO, UNICEF and other partners from the civil society, including youth networks, and international community have officially started the development process for Afghanistan's first National Health Strategy and Action Plan for Young People (2015-2019). Around 50 key adolescent and youth health stakeholders came together on Wednesday, 3 September to discuss strategic priorities for young people's in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, mental health and substance use, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles.

"Public health is a matter of equity. Research shows that health outcomes correlate with socio-economic backgrounds and gender. It is therefore important that the strategy is gender responsive and develops specific interventions for young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. I implore you to give special attention to marginalized youth and their needs," said Dr. Annette Sachs Robertson UNFPA Representative.

Afghanistan has a very young population, i.e. 39 per cent of the total population of Afghanistan are young people between the ages of 10 to 24. However, health strategies and programmes need to target this group as well. Young people's health needs differ from other groups in the population. Investing in adolescents and youth is critical for consolidating investments in child survival and early child development. Furthermore, the so-called ‘second decade' in a person's life offers an opportunity to rectify health issues stemming from the ‘first decade' and pave the way for better health behaviors and outcomes in later stages.

The strategy follows the recent approval of the National Youth Policy which includes four thematic areas: health, education, employment and participation. The National Health Strategy for Young People (2015-2019) will be one of the fourth four thematic components of the National Youth Strategy and Action Plan which is concurrently developed under the leadership of the Deputy Ministry of Youth Affairs.

The strategy will be drafted with the participation of youth representatives from September to November 2014 after which Ministry of Public Health will present the draft to wider stakeholders in a series of national and sub-national consultation workshops.

UNFPA is providing technical and financial support to the Child and Adolescent Health Department throughout the process to ensure that the final document addresses health needs and rights of young women and men.

Building on the success of the National Youth Policy, young people will be involved at every stage of the strategy development and implementation.