October 1, 2020

Mrs Kenyatta roots for mainstreaming of adolescent health in UHC programmes

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta gives the keynote address at an event dubbed "Adolescent Health-the missing population in Universal Health Coverage(UHC)" at the Vieux Bois Restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland Image: PSCU


The young people should be mainstreamed in the universal health coverage (UHC) programmes through policy formulation to ensure the accessibility of healthcare services for the intervention to be successful, says Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.

According to her the continuous lumping together of adolescents and youth with women and children by national and global health strategies make many assumptions that fail to address the health needs of this critical segment of the world population.

“Not surprisingly, this has resulted in numerous urgent calls to address adolescents’ healthcare because while they have been perceived as healthy, they face considerable risks of adverse chronic health issues,” she said.

Mrs Kenyatta was speaking on the sidelines of the 72nd World Health Assembly at an event dubbed ‘Adolescent health – the Missing Population in UHC’ on Monday evening in Geneva, Switzerland.

The event focused on putting the needs of adolescents at the centre of efforts to achieve UHC.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta with Dr. Stefan Petterson Chief of Health UNICEF during an event dubbed “Adolescent Health-the missing population in Universal Health Coverage”at the Vieux Bois Restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland. Looking on is the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, WTO & Other International Organizations in Switzerland Amb. Dr. Cleopa Mailu. Image: PSCU

She said the inclusion of young people in the global health agenda would help in harnessing the demographic dividend and maximize the contribution of this important segment of human capital to global growth


The First Lady expressed concern that available statistics showed higher rates of violence and injuries, addiction, depression and mental health issues among adolescents and the youth in general, an indication that their health needs required more attention.

“We are told that one out of six of the world’s population is adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years. Therefore, recognizing adolescents as key partners in the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets is critical,” she said.

One of the major concerns especially on the African continent, she added, is the new surge of illnesses facing young people as a result of non-communicable diseases and HIV.

According to her the continent should not accept to reverse the gains made in health sector but must encourage young people to access health services saying their priority was not ill-health or disease but jobs, relationships and their future.

She proposed the use of technology, social networks and peer-to-peer connections as a way of encouraging young people to prioritise their uptake of health services.

This notwithstanding, the First Lady wants the focus to go beyond disease or ill-health to include investments that enhance self-esteem, determination and resilience especially among young women.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta shares a light moment with World Health Assembly President and Minister of Health from Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Prof. Bounkong Syhavong during the opening session of the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Also present is Director General WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom(R) Image: PSCU

“In my experience, interacting with adolescents through the Pupils Reward Scheme (PURES), a mentorship program for children, I have learnt of the importance of listening,” she said.


In Kenya, deliberate efforts have been made to prioritize activities that celebrate young people’s contribution to new ideas in technology that have seen groundbreaking discoveries using the internet, mobile telephony and other technologies for sustainable development.

She informed the meeting that adolescents and young people form a key part of her work in Beyond Zero by building better synergies and integrating their voices in advocacy and education dialogue.

“My Beyond Zero Initiative has committed to promoting peer-to-peer learning programmes to develop a cohort of role models and trailblazers,” she told the meeting.

Kenya’s delegation, including sports cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed, agreed that in order to deliver on every adolescent’s right to health and achieve sustainable growth and development priorities, adolescent-focused actions must be at the centre of the UHC agenda.


Earlier, the country’s ongoing roll out of UHC (now in the pilot phase) received global recognition at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 72nd World Health Assembly meeting which kicked off in Geneva, Switzerland on May 20, 2019. 

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta with World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom after awarding her on championing for global health issues after the opening session of the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland Image: PSCU

Speaking during the opening ceremony attended by hundreds of world leaders, the organisation director general Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus cited Kenya as a leading crusader of UHC.  

“Last year I mentioned Kenya’s ambitious plan to implement a new UHC scheme with support from WHO. In December, I had the honour of being with President Uhuru Kenyatta for the launch of that programme in Kisumu,” he told Assembly.

The DG said UHC has already started producing results in Kenya and gave the example of Immaculate Otene, a 33 year old unemployed mother of four whose health burden has been lifted through access to free healthcare services.


“Immaculate is unemployed and her husband often goes without work. But thanks to Kenya’s new UHC plan designed with support from WHO, her family can now access free health services,” he said.

Kenya is currently implementing the pilot phase of UHC in the four counties of Kisumu, Nyeri, Isiolo and Machakos. 

Dr Ghebreyesus encouraged other countries to emulate Kenya’s commitment and scale up the provision of healthcare to their citizens by implementing UHC programme.

He urged WHO member states to promote access to quality primary healthcare, saying strong primary healthcare is the frontline defense to re-emerging diseases like cholera, polio and ebola.

“There will be no UHC without primary healthcare. Primary healthcare is where the battle for human health is won or lost,” Dr Tedros said stressing that through primary healthcare countries are able to prevent, detect and treat non-communicable diseases.

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