Africans should harness potential of the youth-First Lady
The First Lady Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, has called on African countries to find synergies that would help harness the potential of its teeming and youthful populations for the development of the continent.
“We must find synergies and work together to reap the dividend from Africa’s youthful population,” she said.
Speaking at the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) meeting being held on the margins of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, the First Lady said: “It can be said with every certainty that the development and advancement of this youthful population remains Africa’s hope for the future”.
The theme for the event was “Global Partnership towards harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa”.
Mrs Akufo-Addo said in recent years, there have been enormous demographic changes on the African continent and mentioned improved infant and child morbidity and mortality which had resulted in a marked improvement in life expectancy.
She said these factors coupled with high birth rates had also resulted in most African countries having a youthful population, noting that it was therefore important to focus attention on the youth, especially adolescent girls if we want to advance the pace of development on the African continent.
Touching on the African Union’s road map for harnessing the demographic dividend of Africa aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals, the First Lady said four pillars, which were health and well-being; education and skills development; employment and entrepreneurship; and rights governance and youth development, had been identified to be the most critical to increasing investments in youth, driving change and setting African countries on the path towards harnessing the demographic dividend.
Mrs Akufo-Addo said given the multi-sectoral response to HIV, the implementation of the four pillars must include a conscious effort to integrate HIV, saying, “this is the collaborative spirit we must all have as we work to achieving the demographic dividend and ending AIDS by 2030”.
On what was being done in Ghana, she said “we can only achieve a healthy population when we strengthen our health systems saying that strengthening the health systems will have a ripple effect on the HIV response”.
“My country Ghana, through strengthening our health systems is currently implementing the ‘Treat All and Task Sharing Policy’ towards ending AIDS by 2030”.
She called for a conscious effort to integrate HIV into in-school and out of school curriculum and programmes to improve on education on the disease.
She also called for the development of HIV workplace policies that would provide an enabling environment for workers to receive HIV prevention, treatment and care services to help expand the economy and foster job growth, adding, “the development of HIV workplace policies in some of our Ministries, Departments and Agencies has improved access to HIV services while ensuring that workers are kept fit to work”.
She noted that the implementation of interventions to end AIDS by 2030 had a direct correlation with the achievement of the demographic dividend and so synergies must be found, while countries work together in partnership with various Governments, development partners, private sector, civil society organizations and faith based organisations.
Mr Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director, in a remark said there was the need to build effective bridges in Africa and move from working in isolation, while calling for the need to leverage on the social capital of the continent to break barriers.
He said 60 per cent of the population of Africa was below 25 years of age and therefore there was the need to invest in them through education, especially, adolescents and girl’s education.
He also called for a reduction in child marriage, school dropout rates and reduction in HIV among the youth to help them achieve their full potentials.
Mrs Amira Mohammed, the African Union Commissioner (AUC) for Social Affairs, said the Commission was working together to empower women in Africa for a total development of the continent.
She said the AU’s strategic framework was working towards an Africa that the continent deserved including ending HIV and AIDS.
She however indicated that the challenge in Africa now was health financing, saying in the area of health there was the need for funds and that was why the AUC was encouraging domestic financing.
She said to end child marriage in Africa there was the need to keep the girl child in school by making education free.
Dr Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Acting Executive Director, called for investment in the youth and in maternal health on the continent so that no woman would die a needless death.
She said it would take a strategic action to protect young girls and called on civil society, traditional leaders and governments to invest in the protection of the youth.
She said while African leaders were showing the importance to commit to youth, many still disregarded the interest of the youth, and therefore called for a shift in that regard.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director General of World Health Orgainsation, said Africa was home to more young people than any other region and that the continent’s future and economy would depend on these young people if properly harnessed.
He said today young people faced multiple challenges which needed to be addressed, adding that “we owe it to the young population that they can access services that would improve their everyday lifestyle”.
Madam Roman Tesfaye, First Lady of Ethiopia, who doubles as the President of OAFLA, in a welcome address said the organisation was celebrating its 15 years anniversary by focusing on youth development.
Africans should harness potential of the youth-First Lady