Youth Engage Zimbabwe, a grassroots youth organization that advocates for the health, well-being and human rights of all young people with the support of UNAIDS, has embarked on country-wide youth dialogues in an effort to prompt the policy makers to do well on their promise in terms of health service delivery, allocation of funds and prioritization of beneficiaries.
By Patricia Mashiri
The dialogues are focusing on building evidence-based submissions on key asks, solutions, and priorities that will address gaps at a local grassroots level on HIV/ AIDS, Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights(SRHR) issues affecting young people.
Moreso, the dialogues are also focused on reaching out to key populations and marginalised groups for example Young Sex Workers/Young Women selling sex, Young People Living with HIV(YPLHIV), and Youth in Tertiary Institutions.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Clara Chinoruma, the Youth Engage Zim Programs Officer said one of the fundamental aims of the consultation was the creation of safe and supportive platforms for young people.
To share their lived realities which will not only provide answers to questions that numbers do not, but will also allow for greater insight into the context of adolescents and young people’s health and wellbeing.
“The aspiration is that the information consolidated will empower the multi-sectorial response to be more focused and surgical in addressing the challenges and improving the quality of life for young people in their diversity. It will also allow for interventions to be designed with the aim of addressing the heart of problem,” said Chinoruma.
She added that the COVID-19 changed lifestyle, attitudes, values, religion and culture of societies and the youths haven’t been given the platform to express how they were affected.
“Furthermore, there has not been any meaningful consultation on how COVID-19 has affected the SRHR, HIV and AIDS response among young people and also how COVID-19 can be responded to without undermining the response to other pandemics, an area that these consultations with young people will explore.
“The key strategy of the Provincial Youth Consultations is to overcome the challenge of unequal voice in the community by engaging key groups to discuss and agree on the issues as separate groups first, before bringing everyone together to dialogue. In the case of youth friendly sexual and reproductive health service promotion, HIV and SGBV key groups,” she said.
The new global AIDS Strategy 2021 to 2026 which focuses on addressing inequalities, embracing left behind populations, and ending AIDS by 2030 requires a deliberate effort to promote specific dialogue among different demographic groups for enhanced focus and appropriate interventions to address inherent challenges that fuel GBV, HIV and perpetuate barriers to SRHR especially amongst youths.
In 2019, 7.1% of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 were married before the age of 15. Adolescent pregnancies in Zimbabwe are more than twice higher among girls with primary education than among those who attended secondary school.
Meanwhile, Jeremia Manyika, the UNAIDS, Community Support Advisor said their organization was rooted to work closely with Youth Engage Zim as a way of overseeing how best they can help in achieving the global AIDS strategy which talks about ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.
“The thrust is looking at populations in their diversity. Our population is not homogeneous we have key populations ,young and old. In this case we are looking at the youths and adolescents ages 15-24 their are unique HIV/AIDS services, unique GBV needs. So in order to address these needs there is need to consult and go deeper. There has been a number of consultations happening in the country but they are generally wide the look at the youths in the bigger sphere and not really zeroing down to issues of SRHR and GBV,” Manyika said.
He added that the HIV/AIDS infections rates among the youths are high despite the country having HIV prevention commodities such as condoms and PrEP.
“The issues of access to services bordering on the barrier to age of consent law. Young people have failed to access services on time be it HIV testing, circumcision among other because of the law of consent. The delays that they find because of this law has culminated in deaths because the youths could not find treatment in time or at all.
“We are missing youth people who could be in HIV care because they could not consent to HIV testing or treatment by parents we fail to save lives which is unfortunate,” he said.
The dialogues done so far indicated that the country has so much work especially on policy making .The number one challenge being the issue of child marriages. Young girls that are getting into marriages are finding it difficult to negotiate for safer sex, they falling pregnant at young ages which dispose them to diseases such as cancer, difficulties in giving birth among others.