Saturday, 12 August 2017

2017 International Youth Day; A Reflection on Demographic Dividend and SRHR of Young people

On first August this year, I checked the United Nations calendar for International Days and the chart reminded me that Saturday, 12 August, 2017 is the International Youth Day (IYD). This day is one of the days I find myself very busy organizing community events, sharing each and every moment with colleagues, and acquaintances on social media and other platforms.
This is an important day especially when we look at various issues as well as the fact that the youth form the majority of the population. The youth have a stake in all decisions that are made today as they are directly affected by whatever outcome the decisions will being. Further to this, the youth will also remain to shoulder the burden that may be caused by the decisions.
Thus, looking at this year’s theme; “Youth Building Peace: The Role of Youth in Population, Health, Environment, Skills Development and Entrepreneurship”, I find it befitting. The current population growth rate is very shocking and has a negative bearing on the already depleted resources.

Looking at the situation of the youth in Malawi, I ask myself questions and cannot easily find answers. The lives of young people in Malawi and most developing countries is marred  by; unintended teen pregnancies, forced child marriages, increased Sexually Transmitted infections (STI’s) including HIV, harmful traditional practices. With all these SRHR challenges, access to Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) is a nightmare.  Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) is becoming a threat to young people in the country and at the same time inflicts holes into the country’s  social and economic fabric.
This year’s international Youth Day has reminded me of the OAU’s Africa Day which is celebrated on every May 25 each year. This year’s theme focused much on the demographic dividend and how African countries should leverage its advantage in developing its young, talented and hopeful populations. However, the quest can only be achieved if our government is ready to invest in SRH of young people. Provision of comprehensive SRH package to the youth is very critical to youth development, health, well-being, and other necessary elements that are necessary to propel   sustainable economic growth in Malawi.
For those who are not familiar with the demographic dividend, a simple explanation according to UNDP refers to accelerated economic growth that begins with changes in the age structure of a country’s population. A shift to fewer dependent people relative to working-age individuals, accompanied by investments in employment, entrepreneurship, education, skills development, health, rights, governance, and youth empowerment.
My immediate observation is that the issue of proper attention to the health of young people is paramount if the country would want the youth to be at peace and even harnessing the demographic dividend as a way of promoting young people in the country. A fight against poverty cannot end when girls as younger as 14 are forced to enter into marriages, when there is a lot of unprotected sex among youths which leads to a lot of teen pregnancies and transmission of STI’s and HIV. In this situation government will continue to spend more and more money to provide treatment for STI’s and HIV drugs, not only that but large chunk of budget will be allocated to subsidies so that people are able to access services. This is not peace.
Let me finish by highlighting that, UN did not make any mistake to include the international youth day on its calendar, this serves as a reminder to all countries across the globe to reflect on how they can advance the welfare and rights of youth, this year’s theme talks more building peace as countries have recognizes that the current generation of youth are the largest in history and young people often comprise the majority in countries marked by armed conflict or unrest, therefore considering the needs and aspirations of youth in matters of peace and security is a demographic imperative.
But my point is that the youth cannot be agents of change, the youth cannot be actors in conflict prevention and sustaining peace unless we properly set our priorities and place our emphasis on developing the lives of young people. Malawi cannot develop if no investments are made towards the health of the youth in the country. Happy International Youth Day.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Polygonal SRH Puzzle

The youth form a larger part of the total population of the world. It is very heartrending to note that this large sect of the world’s population is facing a lot of challenges and among them are issues pertaining to drug and substance abuse that lead to mental illness, death and many other problems. Of paramount importance and worth the world’s attention and collective action is the issue of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) of young people.

The problem mainly comes in due to the fact that the youth across the globe do not have access to SRH services. Adolescence has its own accompanying elements and among them is the need to seek knowledge about one’s sexuality. As such, the youth lack knowledge and they rely on information from their peers. Usually, this information is based on myths and half-truths and they act based on the misconceptions and they eventually face the dire consequences.

Firstly, the youth, more especially girls are greatly affected by Sexual Reproductive Health problems like maternal death and fistula. These two ‘beasts’ have claimed thousands of young lives across the world. The root of the problem emanates from the fact that young girls start engaging in sexual activities with either boys of their age group or older men. Due to lack of knowledge on the issues of sex and sexuality, they end up being impregnated. Because of their immaturity, many die during delivery and some end up with obstetric fistula.

Secondly, SRH problems have led to an increase in school drop out rate more especially in low income countries. The lack of knowledge on issues of sex and sexuality combined with the lack of SRH services like contraceptives has led to an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies. In Malawi and most traditional societies, when a boy impregnates a girl, culture and society dictates that they should marry. Thus, bringing food on the table becomes the order of the day to such couples and the responsibility leaves them with no room to go back to school. 

Thirdly, HIV and AIDS has and is still claiming lives of young people throughout the world. HIV prevalence rate is dangerously high among the youth in spite of several attempts by governments, funding agencies and NGOs to put the situation under control. The problem has, in the long run, affected youth representation in various critical and key positions in the society. As such, implementation and formulation of some human development initiatives do not consider the youth.

The issues of SRH are very crosscutting hence the need for a systematic approach to deal with the problem. Culture and societal norms need to be tackled as well as the two are also among the main perpetrators of among the SRH problems among the youth. It is like a puzzle that has to be solved in order to save the next generation.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Promoting Youth Friendly Health Services Among young people

Malawi should address the issue of unwanted pregnancies among young girls who are dropping out of school because of pregnancy. Heartrendingly, most of them do not go back to school after delivery as they dedicate their time to raising their babies and most are held back by the fear of how their schoolmates and teachers will treat them.  The issue of teenage pregnancies in Malawi has also led to unsafe abortions among the youth. 

As a way of putting an end to this, young people should be practically accorded their right to sexual reproductive health and family planning services. Furthermore, the policies that are aimed at promoting young people’s sexual and reproductive health should be operationalized without much ado because the issue at hand requires immediate action.

Investing in young people’s sexual reproductive health will greatly empower them so much that the youth will remain healthy, attain their education and realize their goals in life.
Young people have the right to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health, including the number, timing, and spacing of their children and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

All young people, regardless of sex or marital status should have access to sexual and reproductive health services, which includes access to safe, effective, affordable, and youth friendly health services of their choice.

There is also a need to facilitate the process of encouraging peer education which also helps young people to obtain clear information about sensitive issues pertaining to sexual behavior, reproductive health, STIs including HIV and AIDS. Provision of youth friendly health services in tertiary education institutions and workplaces and other places where young people congregate is also viable and cost effective 

The youth in Malawi need to increase their knowledge base on current and relevant information about sexual reproductive health.

Of late, behavior change campaigns for young people have also been neglected and the consequence of this has been strongly felt in all parts of the country and that is in both rural and urban settings.

The government and non-governmental organizations need to maintain and develop effective monitoring systems of such initiatives to inform programing and improve service delivery.
On the other hand, when all is said and done, my fellow young people should also know that the onus is in their hands. No matter what the government and NGOs will do, the youth themselves are key to this. A lot of money, time and resources have already been spent on the promotion of young people’s sexual and reproductive health and  rights but the youth themselves are also to blame for not being active.