We sat down with our Youth Voices Committee Chair, Victoria Watson, to learn about the UN General Assembly and High-Level Meeting on NCDs through her perspective as a young person on the ground, in the mix, and at the table.

 

Tell us about your first experience at the UN General Assembly as an NCD Child Governing Council.

It was a whirlwind experience full of learning and establishing new relationships within the NCD landscape. I found the duality between the UNGA civil society events and the HLM3 floor discussions fascinating. My first day at UNGA included the NCD Free Feast of Ideas, and days following included NCD Child’s Accelerating the NCD agenda through youth-led action, two events that were inspiring in the level of participation across sectors and actors, and willingness to push forward an NCD agenda with the life-course approach at the forefront. As a part of NCD Child’s Governing Council, I was able to see the impact of our work reflected in the amount of attention given by these stakeholders to the needs of youth and the importance of targeting children and adolescents in effectively preventing NCDs of the future.

Moving forward from these events to the HLM3 was a learning experience. The side-events (largely organized by civil society, country missions, and the private sector) were full of new ideas. The HLM3 did not showcase a similar level of health entrepreneurship. While member-states committed to absolving avoidable deaths from NCDs, their policies to address them were not new, and often diverged

What, if anything, surprised you about the week?

The level of attention paid by high-level stakeholders to youth-focused action was very surprising (in a positive way). While most of the HLM3 was “business as usual,” the side-events leading up to it were not. On Tuesday the 25th, Plan International and NCD Child hosted NCD prevention and adolescents: The time to act, a side-event that turned everyone’s attention to implementation questions: how to turn high level talks into lifesaving action for adolescents; how we better translate data on adolescent health into policy. As a facilitator, I noticed a robust selection of high-level leaders in active participation. My table, for example, included Sir George Alleyne, former PAHO director and current member of Independent High-level Commission on Non-Communicable Diseases, and Dr. Harold Nusser, head of social business for Novartis, among others. Our table discussion was lively, and key stakeholders such as Sir George and Dr. Nusser played an active role in listening and providing insight around implementing evidence into policies to address NCDs for youth, and how to better communicate advocacy messages around prevention, again directed at youth populations. This type of eager involvement from stakeholders like this in our discussion demonstrated that yes, people are indeed interested in involving and prioritizing the needs of youth in NCD policy, and that it is a priority – despite what the proceeding HLM3 portrayed.

I was also happily surprised by the emphasis on mental health. Mental health treatment and prevention was one of the priorities that deeply resonated across the art provided by youth at the NCD Child side-event, and, it was a priority that later in the week made it into the declaration at the HLM3. Addressing mental health can benefit the full range of other NCD goals, from preventing obesity, tobacco use, to improving active lifestyles, so I am really happy that it got the attention it deserves.

How do we better amplify young voices so to tackle NCDs, one of the greatest social justice challenges of our time?

For adolescents and young adults, I think solidifying formalized roles for them within the policy advocacy and formation processes is in important – this can look like inviting them to be on Commissions, on Governing Councils of advocacy coalitions (like NCD Child does), or as advisors within the governmental setting so that their priorities are fully heard when designing programs and policies. This rarely happens both in high-income and low-income countries, and results in poorly informed policies impacting young people in all areas of their life. Truly, formalized patient/youth participation is key. Lots of money is poured out into youth forums and needs assessments that involve youth, which is great, but when it comes down to it, it is Ministries of Health and pharma who are designing the policies once the advocacy has been heard. So, I think we need to get youth into those tables, too.

Did you participate in any of the side events (ie, as a speaker)?

Yes! I had the great fortune to be the moderator at NCD Child’s Accelerating the NCD agenda through youth-led action and be a speaker at the NCDs and Primary Health Care: Road to Universal Health Coverage event organized by the UN MGCY and UNFPA.

How was the HLM from your perspective representing civil society? Any wins? Disappointments?

Wins? Yes. Disappointments? Yes. There was a mixed role that civil society organizations played at the UNGA. While some were able to share their interventions, the floor was largely dominated by member-states and private sector. As an activist at heart, this was surprising to me. My assumption had been that civil society organizations, like us or NCD Alliance, would be given ample space within the dialogue. While luckily due to our executive director Dr. Mychelle Farmer’s tenacity we were able to present our statement (major win!), other organizations were not as lucky. It would be my dream to have a high-level forum treat the private sector, governments, and civil society as equals.

Were youth engaged throughout the week? Meaningful or token?

Very, very meaningful – in a way that was new, at least of me. I saw youth advocates from organizations across the global NCD landscape – from YP-CDN (Erin Little and Ishu Kataria), NCD Free (Lucy Richards and Rhea Saksena), and UN MGCY (Lucy Fagan) – as well as independent youth advocates (Nadine Clopton, Daniel Alleyne, Beatrice Marciari) be formally involved in ways that ensured their voices were heard by all stakeholders. This included having them as speakers on round-tables so they could personally craft and share their interventions, to having them be table facilitators so they could work directly with high-level leaders in designing solutions and disseminating ideas. Youth weren’t just delegates – they were leaders, specialists, and equals within the UNGA and HLM.

Did any event or person inspire you?

Honestly, the NCD Child event was one of the most inspiring in terms of the creative ways it enabled youth to capture and present their needs around NCDs and being a mixture of high-level leaders and grassroots activists together in non-hierarchical dialogue. Brilliant!

The World Health Economic forum’s event Increasing Capacity-Building for Public and Private Cooperation to Advance the NCD agenda was also one of the most inspiring to me. The panel was predominantly women (!), and featured Dr. Sania Nishtar, amongst others, who gave concrete ways for the public and private sectors to work together in defeating NCDs from a broad array of angles. As a part of the event, each table (which included people from the private, public, medical and patient perspectives) was asked to craft their own strategy for partnership. This was a truly unique opportunity think through what private-public partnerships really mean in implementation, and what are the best ways to go about it. This type of exercise is really helpful for advocates and implementers from all parts of the NCD landscape, and I was happy I got to participate and learn from such great leaders.

 

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