YMCA at the WHO: ‘be systematic in involving young people and communities’

‘Health begins and ends in communities,’ said World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee at the World Health Organisation Global Management Meeting on 5 December 2022. ‘So my call to the WHO is to work systematically with communities, and especially the young people in communities, to match its own global expertise with their local knowledge, energy and ideas. You’re doing it at the global level, but not yet sufficiently on the ground’.

Carlos illustrated the power of local youth and community action in two stories.

First, an account of how young YMCA members decided to take action to build a maternity ward and train midwives in a remote village of Kotsokofe in the north-east of his native Togo. ‘There’s no WHO in this story, no Government, no business. Communities don’t wait for anyone: they just take action.’

Second, he gave an account of how the world’s ‘Big 6’ youth empowerment organisations worked with the WHO and the UN Foundation to create the Global Youth Mobilization to support youth community responses to the Covid pandemic. In 2021-2022, the GYM has launched national and local projects in 77 countries, which have reached nearly 900,000 people. ‘The challenges we face are far bigger than any of us’, he said. ‘We have to work in partnership, and here we saw the extraordinary capacity of young people to come up with ideas and execute them.’

He welcomed the creation of the new YMCA Youth Council which seeks to amplify the voices and experiences of young people, and to use their expertise, their energy and their ideas to promote public health, both policy and practice. A young Cameroonian doctor, who is also a YMCA volunteer and President of the Nguosso YMCA branch, Sonia Chedom, joined the Council in July.

‘So I urge you to be systematic in including young people and communities’, he said. ‘Social and economic policy tends to be made by adults, for adults. Yet young people offer sheer will and dynamism, and the sense of possibility and owning a future. ‘Nothing for us without us’, they say.’

Carlos spoke on a panel alongside Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, Blessina Kumar, CEO of the Global Coalition of TB Advocates, and Caline Mattar of the WHO Youth Council Steering Committee, a representative of the Global Health Workforce Youth Hub and Assistant Professor of Medicine and Global Health at the Washington University in St Louis. All of them stressed the importance of partnership and the value that young people and communities ca n bring to the WHO. Earlier, a keynote address from Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in the US, had highlighted a failure of political and financial will to fund the goal of primary healthcare for all. ‘The right to health is the right to life: it’s the greatest human right of all’.