ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
SOME may want to deny it, but it is true that HIV/AIDS is no longer a top priority for many societies.
In fact, one can argue that climate change has in many cases upstaged HIV/AIDS as a top agenda on the global stage.
The political climate world-wide has not helped.
The New York Times magazine, in its recent article titled “America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic” acknowledged this.
“Few believe there is the kind of energy, leadership, money and political will in the current political climate to fix the situation in the community that has fallen through the cracks for so long,” Linda Villarlosa wrote in her article.
“And experts in the field have grown increasingly worried about the new administration’s [Donald Trump’s] commitment to fighting the disease. Soon after President Trump’s inauguration, the web page of the Office of National AIDS Policy, the architect of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, was disabled on the White House website.
“The president’s proposed budget includes a US$186 million cut in funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and support services.”
Maybe, that is why Restless Development is not resting.
The United Kingdom-based charity organisation, which sees itself as the global leader in youth-led development, with 10 years of work in Zambia, believes that access to sexual and reproductive health information and services continues to be a problem among young people.
“Sociocultural barriers prevent young Zambians from accessing guidance on avoiding pregnancy and making positive decisions about their sexual health,” Restless Development country director Harriet Mwiinga says.
“Though commendable strides have been made to this regard, teaching of sexuality education is selective, with some topics excluded as teachers respond to cultural and religious norms. For young people in rural communities, the challenges highlighted are even worse.
“This has resulted towards the escalating numbers in under-age or unplanned pregnancy, high STI and HIV prevalence rates, and a lack of opportunity for young people to claim their right to live full and productive lives in their communities.”
Restless Development Zambia is on the ground, working with a five year Memorandum of Understanding on a direct partnership with the Ministry of Education in implementing best practice youth models of development.
The background scenario has been well-established.
It is estimated that only a few adolescents worldwide have comprehensive and correct knowledge about HIV. And with this inadequate knowledge, young people are ill-equipped to make healthy and safe decisions about their sexual health.
To lessen this, in December of 2013, Zambia and 19 other countries in the East and Southern African (ESA) region affirmed and endorsed their joint commitment to deliver Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) services for young people.
Since then, the Ministry of Education has incorporated comprehensive sexual education in the primary, junior and secondary school curriculum.
The curriculum in Zambia focuses on puberty, HIV prevention, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, relationships and human rights. The overall goal is for adolescents and young people to have information about sexual and reproductive health rights.
Restless Development with the support of Amplify Change is running a project called Tikambe (Let’s Talk), which is aimed at building momentum and inspiring action on youth priorities in the nation’s strategy of 2015 frameworks and AIDS response.
“As youth-focused organisations involved in supporting and subsequently contributing towards the improvement of implementation of Sexual Reproductive Health Rights provisions meant for young people, we see no sense in efforts that do not recognise the role that young people can and must play as assets and problem-solvers in this regard,” according to one position paper on the provision of guidance and counselling services in Zambian schools.
“The Tikambe Project seeks to promote genuine youth-led development through meaningfully consulting young people to bring their voices to policymakers. Our highest priority in this process has been to ensure that young people are able to have their voices heard on issues surrounding the implementation of provisions under ESA commitment.
“Our ultimate goal is to contribute to the realisation of a CSE implementation framework that is not only responsible to the needs and rights of young people but most importantly recognises all stakeholders especially young people who are the main beneficiaries of the provisions.”
The implementation of sexual and reproductive health rights in schools is deliberate.
“Schools are the perfect place to begin with, as most young people are found in schools and mainly, children tend to listen more to their teachers then parents hence incorporating CSE in the school’s curriculum will help reduce the cause,” Restless Development project manager Tendai Chiweshe says.
“CSE is defined as an age appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgemental information.
“Evidence has shown that CSE can effectively delay sexual activity, reduce unprotected sex, reduce number of sexual partners and increase protection against unplanned pregnancy, STIs and HIV in young people.”
Through a strategic partnership with the Ministry of Education in Zambia, Restless Development has been delivering youth-led peer to peer interventions fostering skills, development and behaviour change among young people on sexual reproductive health rights and comprehensive sexual education, financial literacy and civic participation.
On the project, Restless Development created and co-ordinates a national alliance of youth-focused civil society organisations, specific government ministries and departments which champion the rights of young people on CSE, SRHR and HIV with a gender component.
One of the alliance members is the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR).
Part of the work of this alliance is to develop an advocacy road map, facilitate dialogue with decision makers and provide an amplified and co-ordinated voice regarding youth priorities.
“We seek to improve access to SRHR information for young people, that is why the alliance through Restless introduced the Know Your Reproductive Health and Rights toolkit,” CSPR programme manager Edward Musosa says.
“The toolkit was introduced early this year by the National Alliance on Monitoring Implementation of ESA-CSE, and will help reduce STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) programme officer of education and curriculum Mwilu Mumbi says Zambia has partially made progress in the area of sexual reproductive health.
“[Already] The Ministry of Education is training teachers in CSE in order to be equipped to teach pupils in primary, junior and secondary level of education,” Mr Mumbi says.
“Teachers who will graduate in 2019 from different colleges and universities will have the full knowledge and capacity to teach comprehensive sexual education as the curriculum was revised to accommodate CSE.
“If only teachers can be brave enough and face their fears to educate the pupils about sexual education then the country can reduce sexual related diseases.”