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If we can harness the demographic dividend in India, we can be at the forefront of global economic growth for next 20-25 years: Dr Arvind Mayaram

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Dr Mayaram spoke on the launch of Population Foundation of India’s study titled, ‘Returns on Investment in Adolescents’ Sexual and Reproductive Health in Rajasthan’

Dr Arvind Mayaram, Economic Advisor, Chief Minister’s Office, Government of Rajasthan launched the study titled, ‘Returns on Investment in Adolescents’ Sexual and Reproductive Health’ at an online event. The study is commissioned by the Population Foundation of India.

Based on data from adolescents in Rajasthan, the study outlines the challenges they face and makes recommendations for scaling up integrated adolescent health services in the state.  Adolescents constitute approximately 23% of the total population in Rajasthan. Many of them face numerous challenges to their health development due to structural poverty, social discrimination, regressive social norms, inadequate education, early marriage and childbearing, especially in the marginalised and under-served sections of the population.

The findings and policy recommendation of the study were presented by Dr Barun Kanjilal, a renowned health economist, and key researcher of the findings. Key findings include:

  • A per capita investment of INR 1 in the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplement scheme (WIFS) would save almost INR 2–20 in terms of productivity loss averted. Hence, an annual investment of INR 66–80 million (INR 6–8 crores)—would bring at least INR 132 million (INR 13.2 crore) in returns,
  • Investing one rupee in the menstrual health of adolescents would return four rupees in terms of averted loss in educational achievement and consequent gain in productivity. In other words, the benefit-cost ratio is 1:4,
  • Similarly, the returns to investment in SRH services or the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) for Rajasthan is 2.97. This implies that for every INR 100 invested to meet the unmet needs of adolescents, there could be a return of approximately INR 300 in terms of healthcare costs saved.

Dr Arvind Mayaram, Economic Advisor, Chief Minister’s Office said, “This report is a pioneering effort by the Population Foundation of India to underscore the reality of the health of adolescents in the country. 21% of the Indian population is made up of adolescents and this large cohort presents the country with unprecedented opportunities as well as challenges. If we can harness the demographic dividend in India, we can be at the forefront of global economic growth for the next 20-25 years.”

Dr Mayaram, suggested that CSOs and governments should join hands to improve the quality and uniformity of services by developing standards and guidelines, with organizations like Population Foundation of India piloting Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics and sharing learnings with government for scale -up. While speaking of unbiased healthcare services for adolescents, he emphasized on the need to conduct research on sustainable and biodegradable sanitary napkins so as to lower the impact on the environment.”

Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India added, “A healthy and educated young population is key to escalating economic growth. With an adolescent population of 253 million, India will very soon be the largest contributor to the global demographic transition. Rajasthan has an adolescent population of 15.7 million which is 23% of the state’s population or every fourth person in Rajasthan. In order to maximize this demographic dividend, we need to invest in ensuring that our working-age population is healthy, literate, and has access to resources. We hope that the recommendations emerging from this study as well as the panel discussion will provide insights on the needs and requirements of adolescents which will help us create impactful strategies to invest in our young population, thereby ensuring they are able to achieve their potential and realise their aspirations.”

The panel discussion on the changing landscape of adolescent health and wellbeing in the context of COVID-19, moderated by Divya Santhanam, Population Foundation of India in the presence of bureaucrats, senior government officials, academicians, media representatives, development partner’s representatives, and civil society organization representatives.

Rashmi Gupta IAS, Commissioner, Women Empowerment appreciated the efforts of Population Foundation of India. She said ‘The study highlights the importance of strategic investment to improve quality of life. To further this approach, this year Rajasthan Government will be distributing free sanitary napkins to all women and girls and work on prioritizing awareness generation for maximum involvement.’

Dr Amita Kashyap, Professor, PSM, SMS Medical College, Jaipur saidEducation is the main concern for adolescents in Rajasthan due to the national wide lockdown The capacities of peer educators and health service providers need to be built around counselling skills. Overall, we don’t need to create new programs but try to better the ones which are already available”.

Dr Gaurav Arya, Executive Director, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) impressed upon the need to build the agency of adolescents. He added ‘When it comes to working on specific issues access, affordability and agency are key. There have been several investments that have been made in the adolescents’ space and are still being made which need to be looked at holistically. Whatever we are investing in today is sustainable and by co-creating with the government, communities, and grantees, we need to make sure that the youth of today and who would be parents of tomorrow have the agency to be able to access the choices that are important for them’

Some of the key policy actions suggested in the study are –

  • Immediate need for allocating greater resources to address the unmet need for contraception, comprehensive abortion care, nutrition, and menstrual hygiene services for adolescents,
  • Adopt a multi-faceted, innovative approach to expanding adolescent SRH services reach and coverage across the state; Strengthen and scale-up nutrition supplementation programs
  • Adolescent-specific health interventions need to be sensitive to adolescents’ SRH requirements, should be of high quality, non-discriminatory, age-appropriate and free from provider stigma and bias,
  • Strengthen implementation and scale-up of adolescent-friendly health services,
  • Institutionalise and strengthen adolescent-specific data management systems.
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