Bihar health minister receives charter of demands from youth leaders

Call for adolescent friendly health services to be initiated across the state

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Patna: Representatives of a 40-member team of youth leaders met with Bihar Health Minister, Mr Mangal Pandey in Patna to present their charter of demands on health services. These youth leaders from Darbhanga and Nawada districts have undergone training on the government’s Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK – adolescent health programme), leadership skills and community based monitoring of health services.

As per Census 2011, nearly every fourth person in Bihar (23%) is an adolescent in the age group of 10 – 19 years. The health and wellbeing of this population, and the quality of services that are made available to them, is inextricably linked to the progress of the state and improvement in its development indicators such as literacy, fertility rates, and maternal and child health. National non -profit organisation Population Foundation of India (PFI) has been working through a pilot project with young people in Bihar to increase their awareness of and access to health services, especially related to sexual and reproductive health.

As part of the initiative, 40 youth leaders have been mentored and trained in community monitoring of health services. Over a three-month period, they have participated in more than 700 Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Days (VHSNDs) and advocated for inclusion of adolescent health sessions in the VHSNDs. The youth leaders identified barriers to accessing health services such as extended waiting time, inadequate information, unfriendly behaviour of counsellors, low awareness of Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics (AFHCs) among adolescents, among others. The reports from the youth leaders were presented to district officials in Darbhanga and Nawada and led to the establishment of four AFHCs – also known as Yuva clinics. In addition, the District Magistrate of Nawada committed to establishing AFHCs in 12 more block Primary Health Centres.

The charter of demands presented to the Health Minister includes recommendations for overall improvement of services in the state. The demands include strengthening implementation of RKSK in existing districts of Bihar and expanding the programme to cover more districts, setting up helplines and establishing a feedback mechanism across the state. At the district level, the charter asks for the regular distribution of sanitary napkins for out of school and college girls, training of doctors at AFHCs on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and provision of supplementary nutrition for adolescent girls.

Receiving the charter of demands from the youth representatives, Mr Mangal Pandey said, “We are conscious of the critical role that young people play in the progress of Bihar and are deeply committed to their health and wellbeing. I am happy to meet the youth champions who have been mentored so that they in turn can share information with their peers, as well as effectively monitor and provide feedback on ways to improve the government’s services.”

One of the youth leaders said, “The training has equipped many girls like me to speak up – earlier we couldn’t even talk to our parents, now we are presenting our demands at various forums. This programme is important for us, and also for young people in upcoming generations who can avail of services meant for them.”

Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population Foundation of India said at the event, “To understand how best to deliver on adolescent health, we must first listen to the adolescents! PFI’s intervention in Bihar is training young people to become leaders, so that they understand their health entitlements, can express their needs better, and are able to demand what they are rightfully entitled to. We thank the minister for lending support to the initiative as it is a great encouragement to the youth leaders, who would look forward to their recommendations being implemented by the state.”