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Hello. I am Fatmata Binta Barrie, a teenage researcher. I speak to you on behalf of my colleagues in Sierra Leone. My topic today is health. Young people named lack of health care their third top concern. Poverty and lack of education are the main causes of many of our health problems today.

The United Nations 2002 Human Development Index lists Sierra Leone as the least developed country in the world. It is far behind other countries in reducing hunger, malnutrition, infant mortality and gender inequality. Life expectancy has recently fallen to about 39 from 42.

Teenagers – especially girls – say they are suffering serious health problems because of the war and because of poverty. They say they do not get the food they need. They eat one time a day and have no balanced diet. Teenagers also lack proper sanitation, and most young people do not have pure drinking water. Toilet facilities are also poor, and many young people are forced to use street corners and back yards as toilets. In these conditions, young people say they are suffering from many diseases, including malaria, diarrhea, cholera, dysentery and other health problems.

I was displaced myself. I lived in the bush for six months, and I saw many of these terrible health conditions. When I was sick, I boiled the bark of trees and drank the liquid. I thought it was the only way to recover.

Many young people were also wounded in the war. Many had their limbs amputated. Today, the disabled have more trouble than others finding education or jobs.

Girls have special problems. They suffered sexual violence in the war. Many are involved in prostitution and others are forced to marry by their parents. All of this has led to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including the incurable disease HIV/AIDS. Many young people said they do not believe HIV/AIDS exists. Some young people said AIDS stands for “America’s Intent to Destroy Sex.”

Other young people said they are now using drugs like marijuana, cocaine, “brownbrown” and glue to ease their troubles.

These problems are made worse by a lack of education about health, especially reproductive health. Health care that is free or inexpensive is not available to many young people, especially in the countryside. At the same time, many young people do not know about free services that are available. Instead, many see traditional doctors, who cannot always cure them and sometimes make them worse.

Young people gave many solutions to these problems: We are asking for more health centers in the countryside with qualified doctors. We also ask for health facilities in schools so young people can access them easily.

We need more information about health issues provided in schools and on the radio. We need and have a right to know about basic health care and health services. We also need to know about how to prevent pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

We the young people must also educate one another about these issues when we learn them ourselves. We especially must try to reach those who are not in school and who are living on the streets. Health programs must support young people’s involvement – as peer educators and as assistants in medical facilities.

We must also work to address the root cause of many of our health problems – poverty. Poverty must be reduced so that we can have better health care, and so that we are able to care for ourselves and future generations.

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