On April 7th this year, World Health Day will recognize the incredible progress made in public health over the last 75 years since the World Health Organisation was formed, and will also highlight opportunities for further progress.
One particular area that deserves special attention is sexual health.
In the last 75 years, we have seen massive challenges in sexual health and significant progress.
For example, when acet UK was founded as a compassionate response to the HIV pandemic in 1988, this was a time when what we knew about HIV meant we expected everyone who was found to be living with HIV to eventually experience severe sickness and death.
35 years after our founding, huge steps forward have been made. Thanks to advancements in medicine and treatment, a person found to be living with HIV today is expected to enjoy a near-normal life expectancy, if they have access to modern healthcare.
This year, the theme of World Health Day is ‘Health for All’. We must ensure that all people, regardless of location, age, gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status have the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
Medical science advancements have provided hope for people living with HIV but for the world to really reap the benefits of the scientific progress we need to focus on health inequalities and work to ensure all people have access to these breakthroughs.
acet UK is working with international partners to tackle some of the issues faced around the world. You can read about some examples of this work in the following pages:
In the UK, our work is focused on supporting young people in their health through education programmes. Young people often lack a comprehensive understanding of puberty, emotional health, relationships and sexual health. Gaps in knowledge and understanding of this topic can lead to significant negative outcomes.
Ideally, all young people would grow up in a context where they would be receiving healthy messages about their bodies and all aspects of their health, with carers/parents taking a leading role, in partnership with the wider community and supported by messages in the media.
Yet this is not the experience of many young people.
In order to ensure that all adolescents have the opportunity to flourish, relationships and sex education is one of the tools we have to help tackle this inequality. We know from the success of many vaccine programmes, that school-based public health programmes are a great way to provide comprehensive interventions that reach the majority of young people.
Programmes should be tailored to meet the needs of the individual schools as each community may have distinct challenges and opportunities.
acet UK is involved both in the direct provision of RSE to young people in the UK and in training other youth practitioners to do the same. Our work includes engaging with young people from a wide range of backgrounds and we intentionally look to meet the needs of young people outside of mainstream education, such as in alternative education programmes.
Our approach is relentlessly focused on meeting the needs of young people.
What started as an HIV education programme has grown into a broad RSE programme covering everything from emotional wellbeing and healthy relationships to the impact of mainstream pornography and contraception.
In the last 75 years, a lot has changed in the fields of public and sexual health, yet many of the questions asked by students today in lessons would exactly mirror the questions students were thinking about 75 years ago.
Our approach is to support young people both with age-old concerns and with emerging challenges.
No one knows what the next 75 years will look like.
We may face the emergence of a drug-resistant or novel sexually transmitted infection (STI). Young people may be presented with new medical options that raise relationship and ethical questions.
Whatever happens, acet UK is committed to ensuring that young people have the foundational knowledge, attitude and skills to face them.
World Health Day is a great opportunity to reflect on the progress made in public health over the last 75 years and to highlight areas where further progress is needed. Sexual health and health inequalities are two important areas that require special attention in order to ensure that all people have the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
We would love more people to be involved in training young people about relationships and sexual health, so why not sign up for our next relationships and sex education course and be an active part of the change in next 75 years?