Youth Summit Delegates Propose Behavior Changes

By Daly Trimble, Freshman, Fox Chapel Area High School

Every year, two million children under the age of five die from diarrhea and pneumonia related diseases. What could end the pandemic?  A bar of soap.   Hand washing is not a universally accepted practice in developing countries and, even in the developed world, it’s not always done .

Poor hygiene was the focus of one of the breakout sessions during the One Young World Summit called “Changing Human Behavior.” The four-day Summit, which began Thursday in Pittsburgh, has brought together some 1,300 young people from more than 180 countries to discuss problems of global concern and identify ways of contributing to solutions.

Unilever, maker of the fast-acting antibacterial soap Lifebuoy, aims to combat poor hygiene by putting the product in the hands of 1 billion people by 2015, up from 140 million today. Unilever has a history of fighting communicable diseases. When the company was founded in 1895, its signature product, LifeBuoy soap, was used to fight cholera.

Today, the company maintains that it’s fighting the spread of disease through education and awareness programs about the benefits of the regular use of soap.

The One Young World 2012 delegates began formulating their own ideas promoting the use of soap. After quickly brainstorming and considering that many uninformed and impoverished people don’t understand the magnitude of cleaning without soap, the delegates came up with several potential ideas.  Focusing on products and activities aimed at children, ideas included creating soaps containing toys and multiple colors. The delegates also came up with engaging lesson plans students would remember and discuss at home with family and friends.  But, while negative behaviors like uncleanliness seem easily eradicated through a direct and innovative approach, many world behaviors are not so simply remedied.

The Global Health plenary session discussed problems more distressing than hand washing, such as a lack of equality and inclusion for disabled people in mainstream society. Thirty-five percent of delegates are either disabled themselves or know someone who is, and fifty-seven percent felt that there was a stigma towards disability. “You are either infected or affected,” said one delegate.

Josie Badger, a U.S. delegate, spoke about how good intentions can go awry and that fear or confusion can result in neglect. “Discrimination…is in the form of pity and ignorance.” Ceri Davies of the U.K. called on the masses to give equal access to disabled people. “Life is not a level playing field for all,” she said.

Emmah Money of Australia and Paras Fatnani of India then discussed with the crowd empowerment for the disabled.  A National Youth Ambassador for Cystic Fibrosis, Ms. Money stressed living life to full potential, promising “If you are determined and passionate, anything is possible.”  Mr. Fatnani lived that mantra, establishing  Project Chirag (Light).  Recognizing that “There are thousands of people out there living in silence and darkness,” Mr. Fatnani provided illumination both literally and figuratively.  In impoverished India, there often is not available electricity, further complicating the life of someone with extra challenges.  Project Chirag provides resources with solar powered lights, through the help of local school students and differently capable people.  Providing awareness, jobs, and opportunity, diverse amounts of people have the option of using their skills to make an impact.

Lastly, Nina Benedicte Kouassi Kouassi of the Ivory Coast discussed an issue that is vastly behavioral.  HIV/AIDS has killed thirty-three million people in the last thirty years, most of them African.  Working as an activist, Ms. Kouassi Kouassi attempts to remove the stigma of infection to prevent its spread.  While the availability of resources is often a complication for those who cannot afford to start or maintain their treatment, often “drug duck-outs” come from community stigma.  Rather than admitting that they are ill, HIV positive people will attempt to continue without medication, eliminating the possibility of fifty more years to live and increasing the risk of further contamination. According to Ms. Kouassi Kouassi, openness is the best policy: “They told their husbands ‘Look, I am HIV positive’…and they can openly take their medication.”  They then “live longer, healthier, and productive lives.”

The audience remained responsive, and the pledge statistics proved it.  Eighty-one percent of the delegates agreed to improve facilities in their environment so those with disabilities would have access to equal opportunities.  Human behavior didn’t just impact the issues, but innovators themselves.  After examining their own personal limits and national flaws, many speakers passionately showed that as there is only One Young World, room must be made for everybody to thrive.

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