The 2019 Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) Youth Pre-Conference held in Kigali had a poignant theme: “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” This was a clear message demanding the meaningful engagement and participation in decision-making of youth, globally, in all matters impacting their lives. Held every two years, the AHAIC youth pre-conference reflects Amref Health Africa’s commitment to working with youth, who constitute over 60 percent of the continent’s population.
Mahlet Alemayehu, MD, a member of Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia’s Youth Advisory Group (AYAG) was among hundreds of brilliant, young, and energetic conference participants. As a young medical doctor, she often asks herself, “‘Am I doing enough?’ I could see women not seeking health care as much as men do, due to financial constraints, cultural influences, 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 centre of achieving universal health coverage (UHC).”
Mahlet was joined in Kigali by two other AYAG 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 AYAG consists of 46 young leaders from various sectors, engaged in driving Ethiopia’s Health Agenda. The multi-sectoral approach of the AYAG 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 AYAG delegates visited implementation sites of Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia’s Access, Service and Utilization of Reproductive Health (ASURE) project, a sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) focused project in the SNNP Region, and witnessed positive outcomes, including incredible work carried out by health extension workers.
“As members of Amref’s AYAG, 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 responsibility. As AYAG 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.”
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