Working with and for young people

Health impacts

Young people are being infected by COVID-19, are transmitting the virus to others, and in some cases are being hospitalized with serious cases. However, compared with older adults, young people and adolescents are less likely to develop serious illness. The COVID-19 response is already putting immense stress on health systems around the world.

It is disrupting the delivery of routine health services and information to young people, sharply limiting access to sexual and reproductive health services, disrupting immunization schedules, and cutting off young people’s access to health services delivered through schools and universities (including continuation of preventive measures such as physical exercise), now shut because of physical distancing measures.

As the pandemic spreads to low-income and lower-middle-income countries – which have disproportionately high numbers of young people and significantly weaker health systems – direct and indirect health impacts on adolescents and youth will likely increase. Owing to lockdown measures, young people have limited access to positive coping mechanisms they may turn to in times of crises (i.e. social initiatives, community service formal education, sports or other types of physical activity, etc.). Isolated from their support systems, young people may turn to negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm, or other harmful behaviors. The need for adolescent-and youth-sensitive mental health and psychosocial services and counselling will increase as the pandemic progresses.

With the observed disruption of health services, young people who need essential, time-sensitive, and life-saving medication and services may be at risk of not being able to access them, thereby increasing the likelihood of developing complications when infected. Specifically, access to essential antiretroviral medications and services for young people living with HIV may be deprioritized and disrupted in the coming months, and the health impacts on this segment of the population, who are already immunocompromised, may be significant.

Young people with disabilities maybe disproportionately affected by interrupted home, community, and social services and support, including personal assistance. Many young people do not have adequate levels of health literacy to enable them to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that protect their health and well-being. Health literacy is critical to empowerment. It includes the timely recognition of the need for health or other services, the ability to seek advice and care, including making appointments, and the ability to navigate complicated health systems. In addition, being highly digitally connected and in the absence of adequate skills to critically assess health-related information, young people might lack accurate knowledge regarding their health and disease in general, and the pandemic in particular, and have a greater chance of being exposed to misleading or inaccurate information. Lack of life-saving information in accessible formats (e.g. easy to read materials, videos with closed captioning and sign language, materials in Braille) puts young people with disabilities at higher risk.

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