Dar Es Salaam November 2, 2021– As we celebrate Africa Youth Day (AYD), which also serves as the commencement of the Africa Youth Month (AYM), it is critical that we underscore that young people are at the center of Africa’s socio-economic transformational agenda. Youth constitutes over 70 per cent of the population, harnessing that demographic dividend to end malaria is a clear win. This Africa Youth Day is a special day to increase advocacy, awareness and action. It is time to steer the continent towards increased domestic resource mobilisation and increased accountability for a more sustained response to defeat malaria. ALMA has carved the path by supporting African countries to establish End Malaria Councils and Funds, that are engaging the private sector and other players in stimulating multi-sectoral action and mobilizing resources.
This year’s theme for AYD ‘Defining the Future Today: Youth-Led Solutions for Building the Africa We Want’ recognizes the special role that African Youth hold in achieving Agenda 2063. Our youthful population represents a powerful and innovative workforce that possesses unique qualities such as resilience, activism, innovation and leadership for change and sustainability. Indeed, we can never underestimate the potential of Africa to grow if the youth are in the driver’s seat.
We recognize that the economic growth we yearn for can only be driven by a healthy population. A healthy people provide a solid foundation for human capital development which is the foundation for a healthy economy and shared prosperity. Africa’s health continues to be weighed down by several health-related challenges, malaria being one of them. Malaria has had a devastating financial toll on the African economy, with billions of dollars lost across the continent as a result of its impact. Furthermore, malaria is responsible for an average annual reduction of 1.3 per cent in Africa’s economic growth. Huge portions of national health budgets are directed towards treating or controlling the scourge.
Recognizing the role young people can play in shaping Africa’s health agenda, the chair of ALMA, His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta has underscored the importance of increased leadership and participation of youth in shaping and driving malaria elimination and expanding Universal Health Coverage. President Kenyatta set out an ambitious four-point agenda outlining key results-based priority areas to eliminate malaria in Africa. Among these priority areas is robust youth involvement in malaria action through the creation of an army of young malaria advocates to champion political and resource commitments.
To this end, in February 2021, the ALMA Chair launched an ALMA Youth Strategy to steer the establishment of an ALMA Youth Army – a broader social movement of young people to fight malaria, improve maternal and child health, and improve access to universal healthcare. An ALMA Youth Advisory Council (AYAC) was established to help drive youth engagement across the continent. As a benchmark for other African countries, the first national malaria and UHC Youth Army was launched in Kenya. While other countries lay the foundations for establishing in-country malaria youth armies, ALMA has also recruited Malaria Youth Ambassadors from 38 African countries, to add to the battalion of young malaria champions in Africa. To ensure evidence driven action, ALMA is training a cadre of youth leaders across Africa to be malaria champions and availing tools to them such as scorecards for accountability and action at every level, from regional, to country, to district levels.
On this Africa Youth Day, I am pleased to embrace with you – the young people of our beloved continent – the immense opportunity for action that lies before us. COVID-19 has been a stark reminder that while substantial progress has been made in reducing the burden of malaria in Africa, those gains can be jeopardized if the pandemic affects the availability of key malaria control interventions. Malaria gains can be reversed in a season. We are now living in the age of pandemics and we will require strengthened health systems that are resilient and can both withstand and manage health shocks. We need to ensure that we engage our youth in improving surveillance, use of data and pandemic preparedness. A disease threat anywhere is a disease threat everywhere.
As young people, you have a chance to help restructure societal norms; driving a paradigm shift. You are at the helm of the most powerful tools for connectivity in history – social media. You have a responsibility to use these platforms to speak in favour of equitable healthcare and hold our leaders in every sector accountable to higher standards more than ever before. With your youthful energy, you can effectively support malaria prevention and control efforts at community level, where the disease wrecks the most havoc. Moreover, young people all over the world are known to be innovators – you have a tremendous opportunity to innovate tools that can save lives. It is your time to embrace this challenge, that will avoid a reversal of two decades of progress against malaria since the 2000 Abuja Declaration. Averting this public health disaster must remain an integral priority alongside the response to COVID-19.
I urge African Heads of State and Government to continually embrace the youth, their talents and capabilities in working towards a healthy and prosperous continent. Indeed, youth are our continent’s most valuable asset, African youth will define the future!
Happy Africa Youth Day!
Joy Phumaphi, ALMA Executive Secretary