Esteemed colleagues and friends,
The theme of International Youth Day this year is ‘Youth Engagement for Global Action’.
Today I’d like to join Mrs Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director-General, as we recognize young people, youth-organisations, and youth-networks around the world for their collective action during COVID-19.
Thank you for your continued support, and your energy, creativity and motivation to get us all through this pandemic safely.
You have a big role to play here.
This pandemic is having a major impact on the future of young adults – not just from the virus itself, but because of its impacts on the economy, employment, education, and the overall health system.
Despite the challenging circumstances, my colleagues in WHO and I are inspired by your resilience, and by your commitment to contribute to the COVID-19 response in your local communities and beyond.
We want young people to be informed and make choices about their health to prepare for long and healthy lives.
It is critical that we engage with young people now to start the journey to understanding their own health.
At WHO, we are working with young people so that we can better understand their needs and concerns, as we develop our guidance for COVID-19 and other health issues.
Although most young people are not at high risk of severe disease during this pandemic, they play an important role, and share in the collective responsibility to help us stop transmission.
We would like to help prepare young people for their important roles in the future, as health emergencies and disease outbreaks may become even more common.
Young health professionals and students are on the frontlines of this pandemic in hospitals, health centers and testing clinics.
Many young people are essential workers, or volunteering to support their communities, delivering food and medicine to the vulnerable.
Others have supported advocacy and risk communication initiatives, such as community radio to combat misinformation, an online handwashing challenge, and translating and disseminating public health information.
Other efforts include developing apps to collate COVID-19 guidance from reputable sources, and running surveys to gather behavioral insights to better inform public health response strategies.
I will leave you with three requests:
First, I’d like to call on organizations, intuitions and governments to listen, engage and empower young adults as partners in action. Our future is their future.
Second, we have to give young people a much larger role in political decision-making.
Their voices often go unheard, even though more than half of the world’s population is under 35 years old.
The engagement of young people is essential as we confront the health challenges of today and the future.
Finally, and most importantly, to young adults around the world, I say: Think big and be bold. We count on you for your creativity and your fresh ideas.
Your voice and engagement are needed more than ever, particularly as the world responds to this unprecedented crisis.
Working together, all of us, old and young, from everywhere in the world, can overcome this pandemic.
I thank you.