Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Middle East: The Need for Responsive Health System
More than half of the Middle East population, 54% are under the age of 25 including 90 million adolescents (10-19 years of age). The growth spurt challenges of the second decade of life is mounted with early sexual debut and early marriages. Consequent unintended pregnancies and child birth, the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS threaten the fragile adolescent still under physical and psychological development. Pervasive conflict and displacement in the region overwhelm prevailing adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) issues and unmet needs. National health systems and the private sector do not typically recognize nor address sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs of young people, especially unmarried adolescents. Health care providers do not recognize nor address health risks and needs of adolescents. Evidence show that adolescent health services -if exist- are fragmented and poorly coordinated. Inherent social norms, attitudes, taboos around sexual health and discriminating gender differences hinder adolescents’ SRH health literacy and access to quality services. What should the health sector do to transform the current approach that ignores ASRH issues? How do we respond to the urgent unmet SRH needs of the 90 million adolescents living in the Middle East?