07/11/2013 12:17 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Youth Voices Must Resonate

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the 4th session of the UN Open Working Groups (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals in New York as a delegate of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA), member of the Major Group of Children and Youth.

As the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) are coming to an end in 2015, the global community is looking for a new set of goals that will answer our changing world's needs. The MDGs weren't without flaws, and it seems that sustainable development -- which is based on three pillars: economy, society and environment -- might be the key to solve global challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change. Hence, the UN 4th session OWG was one of the many meetings, conferences, think tanks and consultations that are going on around the world as we speak. During those three intense days, the assembly looked into education, employment, social protection, population dynamics and health in this post-2015 world.

It was extremely interesting to see how youth was so many often named and yet, so little heard in the big room filled with diplomats from the five continents. I might be a little biased, but I was struck by the necessity of opening discussions to civil society and of adressing health as a cross-cutting issue in the post-2015 process. To respond to several unanswered questions, our delegation of medical students co-wrote a statement on behalf of youth and medicals students around the world, and I would like to share some parts with you.

Where does youth fit in a post 2015 world? Almost half of the world's population is under the age of 25, which means there are too many of us to ignore. We, the youth, know how to communicate with each other and to make sure that our different voices are equally heard.

We are the generation that grew up with social media, we are the generation of instant sharing. We are the MDGs generation, but the SDGs will help us give the future we want to the generations to come. We need clear mechanisms to participate in and contribute to sustainable development. A vibrant and politically engaged youth is necessary because after all, it is our generation that will ensure that the SDGs are achieved.

What do we, the youth, wish to see in the post-2015 world, how can we contribute? We call for equal access to high-quality education that will equip us to be a part of a sustainable society. We call for decent green jobs that will give us the capacity to create our own opportunities. We call for universal social protection to support the most vulnerable amongst us, while empowering us to drive change. We call for inclusion of sexual health education in all primary school curricula. We call for education and empowerment of women and girls so they may in turn continue to strengthen their families and society.

We must stop thinking of health as medical interventions alone. The Health in all Policies approach emphasizes that all policy domains impact and are impacted by health. Good health is both an outcome and a determinant of successful development policy. We commend many countries for their statements on health system transformation towards Universal Health Coverage and non communicable diseases. We call for health-sensitive indicators throughout the sustainable development framework. Funding, accountability and governance for health will all follow from strong indicators and targets. The post-2015 development framework must address inequality within and between countries. We need better data to meet the needs of marginalized and vulnerable children and youth. These populations must be a priority in the sustainable development goals.

We are physicians in training and by 2015, we will be graduated doctors. We will contribute to the healthcare of the young people we are discussing. We wish for equitable health access for the people that will become our patients, and for their quality of life to allow them to be productive members of society. We are the first generation with a lower life expectancy than our parents, mostly because of the burden of noncommunicable diseases, while we also clearly understand that we are likely to see a rise in infectious diseases because of globalization and climate change. We have resources unavailable to many members states, but the problems we face have universal roots in inequity. The solutions, we hope, are also universal.

Health plays a critical role in the sustainable development agenda. Healthy youth are engaged youth, healthy human beings are active citizens. This is why we all need to engage today as a team for the future we want. Youth need your wisdom and expertise; you need our vibrancy, perspective and creativity. This process will be a failure if youth are not fully engaged and health. Youth voices are critical in the design of goals to promote equity and health in a post-2015 world. You will find us to be energetic, professional and full of new ideas, but we need your help to access the process.

This statement was written by a group of future health professionnals and passionate advocates for health equity. We are young, our heads are filled with ideas and our voices must resonate. We are talking about our future, but this future starts now, not in ten or twenty years.

A friend of mine was once asked why a medical student would sit in a room talking about sustainable development. He answered "because those issues are health issues". He couldn't be more true.