By PSCU/Beth Nyaga
First Ladies from Kenya and Malawi Margaret Kenyatta and Dr Gertrude Mutharika respectively said the future of Africa heavily relies on its vibrant youth as critical catalysts of change and innovation.
They said the continent can no longer afford to ignore the immense and energetic potential held by its youth and excluding this important segment of its population from key decisions making processes.
The Kenyan First Lady said the youth hold the solutions to some of the most perplexing and pervasive problems that Africa faces .
“You are our change catalysts; you are our innovators; you are our present and our future”, said the Kenyan First Lady.
On her part, Dr Mutharika said young people need to be involved in decision making on matters that affect the continent especially on health and education.
Dr Mutharika is the current President of the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/Aids and officially opened the youth forum as the head of OAFLA. The host, Margaret Kenyatta , is a member of OAFLA Steering committee.
“Most importantly, young people need to be an integral part in decision making processes”, said visiting First Lady.
The two First Ladies spoke during the opening of the two-day Africa Health Agenda International (AHAI) -2017 Youth Pre-Conference , at a Nairobi Hotel.
The Youth Pre-conference forum that brings together over 200 delegates from various organizations from across Africa precedes the main AHAIC conference scheduled for March 7-9 in Nairobi.
The (AHAIC) conference under the theme of “ Towards a Healthier Africe: People, Systems and Innovation” is sponsored by Amref Health Africa with the support of the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health.
The main conference is expected to bring together another 400 experts from around the world to share their expertise, research findings, debate on and share strategies on Africa’s preparedness for SDGs and Resilient Health Systems.
The host First Lady said the world is now waking up to the reality that it’s the youth who will lead the kind of reformative work towards finding solutions for global problems.
Talking passionately about health, an area that she has devoted herself over the last three years, the Kenya First Lady said one of the goals that the continent must share is the idea of an inclusive and responsive healthcare system that caters to the needs of all people—including the youth.
“Youth friendly healthcare systems that respect the needs of youth, and the core values of our communities, are critical to empowering this generation and securing socio-economic and political stability for the future”, said the host First Lady.
She singled out HIV as one of the leading health issues affecting the youth and which Africa needs to address.
“Today, HIV is the leading killer of youth in Africa—which is extremely disheartening given the amount of information we have about this disease, today”, she said.
She described as troublesome the fact that Africa is home to more than 60 per cent of people living with HIV in the world and where 72 per cent of the deaths are HIV related.
She said these challenges require immediate attention and concerted investment
“Addressing this HIV challenge requires the inclusion of our youth to come up with youth- centred, youth-led interventions” said the Kenya First Lady.
To effectively deal with the challenges of HIV among the youth, said the First Lady, African must also prepare to deal with related social issues including stigma and harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which persists despite being outlawed.
Most importantly, said the First Lady, the youth need to be listened to so that society can understand what they need and how to bridge the gaps that they experience in existing public health systems.
Dr Mutharika said besides being involved in decision making processes, the youth in Africa need jobs and decent and meaningful employment opportunities.
And on behalf of OAFLA, Dr Mutharika gave a commitment that the organization will henceforth put young people at the centre of their efforts.
“2017 is the year of the youth. OAFLA is committed to play its roile in support of our young people”, said Dr. Mutharika.
She said the global development agenda is tilted in favour of the youth and Africa has no excuse not to put its youth at the centre of its national development agenda.
Others who addressed the ceremony included Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Sicily Kariuki. UNICEF Country representative, Dr Werner Schultink Acting United Nationas Population Fund Country representative Ms Gift Malunga and Amref Health Africa Group Chief Executive Officer, Dr Githinji Gitahi among others.
Twelve year old Miss Shiluni Shirim received a standing ovation when she gave an emotional testimonial on how she has escaped FGM to pursue her dreams “to become a doctor and possibly a future president”, rather than undergoing the cut to become a housewife.
Ms Shiluni is the anti-FGM Ambassador, Amref Health Africa.