UNESCO calls for strengthened sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for young people in Eastern and Southern Africa

Photo From Left to right: UNESCO Regional Programs Coordinator for HIV and AIDS, Victoria Kisaakye, Kanobe; Lovelife Alumni Ambassador Ms Kedibone Segonote; UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Prof. Sheila Tlou; UNESCO Regional ESA AIDS Advisor, Dr. Patricia Machawira; UNFPA ESARO Youth and HIV Technical AdvisorDr. Asha Mohamud.
The 21-country report, “Young People Today. Time for Action Now,” by UNESCO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and other bi-lateral partners demonstrates that adolescents and young people – especially young women – face a wide range of challenges that compromise their life chances.

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Currently, every hour, an estimated 50 young people, again mostly women, become infected with HIV. This makes Eastern and Southern Africa the world’s most affected region, with 430,000 new infections annually among young people aged 15-24 and an estimated 2.6 million other young people living with HIV in the region.

The report presents findings from 21 countries in the ESA region, covering the health and the social status of adolescents and young people, access to education, HIV knowledge, HIV and unintended pregnancy prevalence, and key gender and human rights indicators. Speaking at the launch, UNESCO’s Regional AIDS Advisor, Dr Patricia Machawira said, “The poor status of sexuality education and SRH services is evidenced by the high rates of teenage pregnancies in the region. For instance, by age 17, at least 20% of young women in six of the 21 countries in the region have started childbearing. Early childbearing often contributes to school dropout and may lead to maternal mortality.”

Other key findings in the report include: less than 40% of young people know basic information about HIV; key health services are often withheld from adolescents and young people due to their age, marital and legal status; and sexual or gender-based violence is a reality for up to 35% of young women.

Getting education and health ministers to commit to good quality comprehensive sexuality education and access to sexual and reproductive health services is one of the most effective solutions to address the issues affecting young people, whose numbers are expected to increase to 281m by 2050.

As Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of UNAIDS Regional Support, states: “It is time for urgent action by our governments, young people and civil society to re-affirm the rights of young people to a better future. We have a duty to make good quality HIV and sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services a reality for all.”

Taking the report’s 10 key recommendations further, UNESCO and partners have today launched a region-wide campaign to highlight the rights and education/health needs of adolescents and young people. Working with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC), the campaign aims to get the region’s Ministers of Health and Education to pledge firm support to a “Commitment” of bold action and leadership in support of their youth populations. This commitment-building process will culminate in a high level meeting on 7 December 2013, bringing together the 42 ministers at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Cape Town, South Africa.

More information about the campaign and a link to the report can be found at www.youngpeopletoday.net

The 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa reviewed in the report: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

About UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) and promotes international co-operation among its 195 Member States and eight Associate Members to contribute to the building of a culture of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. UNESCO’s approach to HIV/AIDS work is organized through UNAIDS to move towards universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support. UNESCO is the lead agency on sexuality education, developing tools and guidance which are used by ministries and civil society in the development of sexuality education curricula, policies and implementation support. Technical support is provided at country and regional level to ministries of education and civil society organizations in their efforts to strengthen HIV responses through education.

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