This year’s Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) Youth Pre-Conference took place from 3 to 4 March 2019. Held every two years, AHAIC youth pre-conference reflects Amref Health Africa’s commitment to working with youth, who constitute over 60 percent of the continent’s population.
Given the trend of underinvestment in engaging young people in decision making and nurturing their role across the continent, the theme of the 2019 AHAIC Youth Pre-Conference, “Nothing About Us, Without Us” was a clear message delivered demanding for meaningful engagement and decision-making role on all matters impacting their lives, globally.
Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia recognizes the importance of youth voices, meaningful engagement of young people, and ensuring youth ownership in the trajectory of their own and their community’s health outcomes. In recognition of the important role youth play, Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia established a Youth Advisory Parliament (YAP) in December, 2018, with plans to expand this platform to regional, and district levels under the basic tenet of enabling young people to lead and advocate for their own health and development. Mahlet Alemayehu, MD, a member of Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia’s Youth Advisory Parliament (YAP) was among hundreds of brilliant young and energetic conference participants.
As a young medical doctor, she often shares this: “I often ask myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ I could see women not seeking for health care as much as men do, due to financial constraints, cultural influence and domestic work priorities. In their own words, they explained to me how they experienced poverty every day at rates that are disproportionately higher than men, making it difficult for them to get the needed health care. I remember a time when I told my friend, ‘these days, I am feeling like I am treating women who have fallen from collapsing cliffs, only to send them back again to the same environment.’ The environment is the main problem and that is what we need to change.”
For Mahlet, attending the AHAIC Youth Pre-Conference reaffirmed her belief that health care needs to take a multi sectoral approach. “I was happy that the conference speakers were from the health sector and beyond. Health needs to be an integral part of every sector, as every sector plays a role for the health of a society. Women have been disproportionately disadvantaged and I believe a gender equitable lens should be at the center of achieving universal health coverage (UHC).”
Mahlet was joined in Kigali by two other YAP members: Hiwot Girma, a drug information focal person and a clinical pharmacist at Ghandi Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, and Dawit Zegeye, the Executive Director of Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA). The Amref Ethiopia YAP consists of eight young leaders from various sectors, engaged in driving Ethiopia’s Health Agenda. The multi-sectoral approach of the YAP has resulted in significant knowledge sharing among members and external partners and brings a wide range of expertise.
Two weeks ahead of the Youth Conference, the YAP delegates visited implementation sites of Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia’s ‘Access, Service and Utilization of Reproductive Health’ project, a sexual and reproductive health and rights focused project in southern region, and witnessed positive outcomes, including incredible work carried out by health extension workers.
“As members of Amref’s YAP, we are evidence that youth are no longer staying in the back. Rather, we are in the driver’s seat, accelerating the pace towards achieving UHC,” Mahlet noted.
Dawit, Hiwot, and Mahlet shared that they felt it was a privilege to attend the AHAIC 2019 Youth Pre-Conference in Kigali. “We know with privilege comes with a responsibility. As YAP members, we have taken the responsibility of making sure that the content of AHAIC is not left in Kigali, but rather brought home with us to be shared with our fellow youth. And for that, we will hold ourselves accountable.” As part of their role in promoting and driving universal health coverage, the YAP marked this year’s World Health Day with a stirring event that involved a panel discussion on their roles in accelerating the attainment of UHC in Ethiopia.