Young people’s health status has been identified as a critical element in, and inseparable from, their ability to receive an education, engage in income-generating activities and participate in other structures of society (Richter and Panday, 2005). To this end, Article 16 of the African Youth Charter focuses on the health of young people and stipulates that “every young person shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical, mental and spiritual health”.
Adolescent fertility in sub-Saharan Africa remains the highest in the world. The proportion of women aged 20– 24 years who gave birth before age 18 is also higher than elsewhere in the world. To a large extent the high adolescent pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa can be attributed to low contraceptive prevalence among young people in the region. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has shown that the use of modern contraceptive methods has changed little in the recent past throughout much of sub- Saharan Africa. Although it increased from 12.2% to 20.0% between 1990 and 2000, the 2007 figure was only 21.5%; in many countries of the region it is less than 10%. It has been reported that in sub-Saharan Africa, 67% of married adolescent women who want to avoid pregnancy for at least the next two years are not using any method, and 12% are using a traditional method (Guttmacher Institute, 2010). The reasons for these range from lack of knowledge about contraception, health concerns, high costs and limited supplies, to cultural or personal objections to the use of contraception.
According to UNECA (2009), the main cause of death among African youth is HIV and AIDS, accounting for over 53%; this is followed by maternal conditions at 16.7%, tuberculosis at 4.5%, sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV and AIDS at 1.7%, and malaria at 1.5%. unnatural causes of death – particularly road traffic accidents and violence – present another major threat to young Africans, especially males.
Widespread poverty, plus alcohol and drug abuse, as well as the social and political upheavals experienced in most parts of Africa, create circumstances conducive for poor mental health among young people, who are directly affected. Although data is lacking on the prevalence of mental health problems among youth in Africa, it is almost impossible to expect optimum mental health for children exposed to this kind of trauma. Depression and other psychosocial disorders are other possibilities that can arise due to lack of opportunities to attend school or find a decent job.
All this is compounded by the fact that young people in Africa continue to be disadvantaged in health service provision and there is a gap between policies and their implementation where youth friendly health service provision is concerned. Youth friendly health service facilities are often side-stepped in resourcing and are given lower priority to other “more mainstream” services. In a case brought out by a youth-led research process in Zimbabwe, spaces that had been ear marked for youth friendly services were diverted for other profitable ventures, in this case, a public house (pub).
Cost of services continues to hinder access to services for young people. Among the measures of youth friendliness of services as set by the UNFPA is affordability or access at no cost. While costs for Tuberculosis (TB), Malaria, Antiretroviral treatment among others have been subsidised, many other fees related to medical consultation, diagnostic tests and medication remain. This makes it very hard for the youth to access proper health services as is guaranteed to them by right.
Over the next few weeks, the thematic section will expand with the addition of information about the latest news and innovations taken by civil society, government, and grass-roots level activists in these sectors. Simply, our goal for this section is to ask ourselves: What is happening with youth iniatives in Africa and what innovations can we learn from? But, we need your help to make that a reality. If you come across some interesting news and information about health, employment, education, and access to technology and capital, please send an email here and we will get back to you.
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