Today, citizens under 30 years old comprise 60 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population - a proportion that is ten per cent higher than the global average. These young people face significant health challenges and are disproportionately affected by rapidly growing rates of non-communicable diseases, neglected tropical diseases and the burden of out-of-pocket payments.
Yet these 1.3 billion young people also represent a huge opportunity. They have the ideas, energy and talent to make a huge difference in their communities - and in the Commonwealth as a whole. At the 2019 Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM), six young and bright minds from across the Commonwealth showcased their potential to change the world through their health innovations:
These individuals presented their ground-breaking work at a special exhibition in the margins of the Commonwealth Health Ministers meeting, on the theme: “Universal Health Coverage: Reaching the unreached, ensuring that no-one is left behind”. Their innovations highlighted the ways in which young people are tackling age-old challenges with modern technology and disruptive thinking.
It also underscored the Commonwealth’s commitment to empowering young people to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the last two years, the Commonwealth Youth Health Network has worked closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat and member states to leverage the unique capabilities of young people and drive forward progress toward SDG3 and health-related development goals.
Most recently, the network mobilised ahead of the recent Global Conference on Primary Health Care, hosting consultations with young people from Ghana to Guyana to ensure their voices and priorities were heard by politicians and policy makers. Now, the network is seeking to provide a platform for youth-led innovation - including hosting a healthcare hackathon in London - with plans to roll this initiative out on a regional level.
The Commonwealth is a champion for young people and an advocate for youth engagement and empowerment in all sectors of society – a point reiterated by Commonwealth Heads of Government in their last meeting in London in 2018. This year’s cohort of youth health innovators demonstrates that rather than leaders of tomorrow, young people are indeed movers and shakers of today.