IN a bid to bridge existing HIV information gaps and access to care for adolescents and young people, Youth Advocates Zimbabwe (YAZ), working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) and the National AIDS Council (NAC) have launched the SADC Youth Helpline to facilitate dialogue and openness between healthcare service providers and young people.
By Michael Gwarisa
The 393 Youth Helpline national contact center will be piloted in three districts in the SADC region namely, Francistown in Botswana, Zomba in Malawi and Zvishavane in Zimbabwe. The project also uses a multi-component layered Youth Helpline intervention that takes advantage of digital innovations and increased access to technology
Speaking at the Helpline’s launch, Gertrude Ncube, the National HIV Prevention Coordinator within the Ministry of Health said the HIV epidemic now wears a young people’s face hence the need for such innovations as the Helpline.
This project is unique as it seeks to explore new ways to address areas where we have been struggling in our region in as far as the HIV response is concerned by using the M-Health. As you might be aware, in Sub-Saharan Africa, if you look at new infections, the epidemic now has a got a face of young people where we have got 74% of new infections coming from our adolescent girls and young women,” said Mrs Ncube.
She added that the new infections in young girls and women were being fueled by social isolation of the young people, poverty and the discriminatory cultural norms in society.
“Orphanhood as you know is another biggest contributor. Most of our children were actually left orphaned when we lost a lot of adults due to the AIDS pandemic and death. We also have the Gender Based Violence (GBV) which is happening in our country. As a country, we need to do a lot looking at GBV for everyone especially for the young people where it has actually impacted on our increase in new infection for HIV.
“Inadequate schooling as you know is also a contributor to new HIV infections. A study was done which indicated that if you send girls to school, their chances of acquiring HIV and new infections are actually limited. So we all need to look at that. We also have the DREAMS program which has contributed to a reduction in new infections amongst adolescent girls and young women. All our districts in the country should actually be implementing the DREAMS program so that we reduce new infections amongst adolescent girls and young people.”
The Youth Helpline was launched also with support from the SADC Secretariat and the project comes at a time Zimbabwe is making strides towards implementation of the M-Health through using mobile phones and digital platforms to reach out to young people.
Reading a speech on behalf of the National AIDS Council (NAC) Chief Executive Officer, Dr Benard Madzima, Ms Madeline Dube the NAC Communications Director said, “…the 393 Youth Helpline comes at a time when NAC has juts competed a study to map out existing call centers in the country and the 393 Youth Helpline by YAZ has been identified as the most functional and operating with commendable standards.”
She added that documented evidence show that young people fare disproportionately poorly across the HIV care continuum compared to other age groups. The Youth Helpline is an innovative strategy encompassing a multi component layered interventions combining mobile based technology, multi-media campaigns, referral systems, strengthening community level outreach and psycho-social services on HIV and AIDS knowledge and HIV services uptake among young people aged between 10-24.
Representing the SADC Secretariat, Lamboly Kumboneki said, “…This event here is the commitment of the SADC heads of state to fight the AIDS epidemic in the region. As you may all recall, almost 20 years back, today we have what we call the Maseru Declaration which was a commitment of heads of state the SADC region to fight the HIV epidemic together.
“In this declaration, we have mainly five areas of priority which are prevention, the heads of state pledged to improve access to care and testing and more importantly resource mobilization. Through this, resource mobilizations, we have what we call the HIV fund. It’s a fund which is made of contributions of member states to support the HIV fight against the region. It is through this fund that the SADC secretariat has been able to support this initiative.”
Giving the baseline findings of the 393 Helpline project overview, Youth Advocates Zimbabwe (YAZ), Nokhupiwa Moyo said, “Through linkages with other partners and other line Ministries, the Helpline has got a direct service registry which has service proved from all the districts that we operate in. We can be able to link and direct young people for available service within their communities. We also disseminate information via calls, SMS and as well as social media engagement.”
Meanwhile, the launch of the 393 Youth Helpline also comes at a time United Nations Agencies operating in Zimbabwe such as the UNICEF, UNAIDS and the UNFPA have also been using other tech based approaches to reach out to more young people. These projects include the U-Report by UNICEF, TuneMe by UNFPA and Future-Plus by UNESCO.
Representing UNAIDS Country Rep, Sophia Mukasa Monico, Linda Hwenga the UNAIDS Zimbabwe Country Advocacy and Communication officer said, “As UNAIDS, we are proud to focus on digital innovations and increased access to technology which potentially addresses the critical gap in HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) access to information and care for adolescents and young people since it is critical for Zimbabwe to achieve the 2030 agenda Sustainable Development Goals.”