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Commonwealth Secretary-General and young people smiling at Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting

Blog: Youth shine at Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting

20 June 2019
By Obinna Nnewuihe, Assistant Health Officer

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:

  • William Wasswa, a PhD student at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda is working on a digital pathology platform for automated diagnosis and classification of cervical cancer from pap-smear images. The innovation will cut the time, cost, and error margins of pap-spear analyses in developing countries.
  • Aditya Kulkarni, from India, founded technology start-up CareNX Innovations, which has developed an app that helps cut maternal and infant mortality by enabling rural women to monitor their pregnancy and health workers to early identify any potential or emerging high-risk complications.
  • Young technopreneur Shanza Khan Shahani created a speech therapy platform called Bolotech that provides solutions to 22 million people with speech impediments across Pakistan, using the native language 'Urdu'.
  • 2018 Queen’s Young Leader Midia Shikh Hassan, from Canada, co-founded and manages Dextra, which uses 3D printing technology to provide prosthetics to amputees living in refugee camps and poverty zones.
  • Jamaican Rayvon Stewart, created a door handle sanitiser called Xermosol that helps medical facilities, businesses, schools protect people from deadly microorganisms lurking on their doorknobs. 
  • UK-based Serena Mukhi, is working on Maanch, an AI platform for connecting donors, impact investors, corporates, institutional investors and non-profit organisations to enable effective giving and receiving through promoting transparency and impact measurement.
  • Finally, Josiah Tualamali’i, a Samoan New Zealander, founded the Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Council (PYLAT) with friends. The NGO works across health and education to provide advice and run activities which can support Pacific young people to thrive and lead.

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.

Commonwealth Health Ministers' Meeting