Engage with your Health Ministry:

Boosting Youth and Adolescents engagement with Health Ministry

BY: Eyob Asfaw

The onset of COVID-19 as a global pandemic was particularly known to demonstrate the importance of the actors of Health sector than ever before.  Out of them, youth and adolescence reproductive health, teenage pregnancy, safe motherhood, preventing substance abuse are found among other things to be executed with greater dedication than any time before.

On 30 December 2020, Talent Youth Association showcased a webinar moderated by Yohanna Hailu and paneled by Sintayehu Abebe (Program Manager, Amref Health Africa) Dr. Eden Fesseha (adolescent and youth health case team leader) under the title ‘Engage with your Health Ministry’. Unquestionably, the title is clear enough to provoke subsequent questions such as ‘how to engage with the ministry?’ ‘Whom to engage the ministry?’. Throughout the proceedings of the webinar, the moderator introduced as the adolescence and reproductive health is too important before leaving the airtime for Mr Sintayehu.  Initially he presented ‘Overview of Adolescent and Youth Health in Ethiopia”.

At a glance, the presentation conveys how important to generate youth sensitive database showcasing for the health sector. It is worrisome that significant number of the sexually active youth are not using contraceptive. Reiterating the Ethiopian youth are becoming sexually active at earliest possible age, a sexual and reproductive health education is becoming more demanding at this stage.  Also, it was pointed out as making sexual & reproductive health programs more accessible for over night and day off calendars. Needless to say, since our youth are living among typical culturally conservative community,  the health ministry demanded to facilitate modalities for keeping the secrecy of the youth clients. In this endeavor, it has to be well noted that the youth’s individual dignity ought not to be prey of stereotype for accessing services of sexual and reproductive health. 

Demographically, the youth comprised more than 2 billion of demographic composition across the globe and 600 million adolescents in developing countries and 42 percent of Ethiopian population. However, yet 3,000 youth are dying mostly for curable and preventable diseases. Substance and Mental health are one of the elephant in the room which demands the attention of the stakeholders. Parenting was not aligned with effective early childhood development. Needless to say, most parents in Ethiopia are neither serious enough nor ready as to respond and aware their respective kids for critical questions of child development. It is not uncommon parents bothers how to aware their own kids regarding sexuality and adolescence. Rather they relegate it as taboo and deviant issue not to be discussed between parents and children. Though it seems overshadowed policy concern, enhancing adolescent and youth nutrition began to sprint under the ministry against the public is not yet alerted as nutrition is generational and malnourished moms and dads would eventually bore similarly either stunted child or mentally retarded child.

For Dr. Eden Fesseha, adolescent and youth health care case team leader,  at Ministry of Health, told the participants as advocacy, service delivery were rendered beyond the usual services of sexual and reproductive health. On this regards, safe motherhood and teenage pregnancy were the focus of the ministry on which they engaged massively throughout the regions.  Against the background of the youth health can’t be solved by the ministry alone, the ministry considered multi-sectorial response for the betterment of the youth health.  On their school health program and youth centers, the ministry carried out successive training for the youth.  Perhaps, the ministry is yet challenged by the need for implementing updated structure and staffing plan in a manner of meeting the demands of the youth health.  Moreover, for the moderator’s question on how the ministry move toward engaging the youth, the Dr Eden replied as the ministry boldly initiated a full-fledged youth engagement guideline. For the participant question on whether the previous strategic plan has undergone serious evaluation, Dr Eden replied as the ministry lags behind from effectively evaluating the strategic planning.

As for Amref Health Africa, Sintayehu recites that the youth for understanding engaging the youth was not an entire affair of the ministry.  Also, they considered youth advisory group by way of ensuring youth mainstreaming across the portfolios of the entire organization.  Also, the youth advisory group in their organization design and execute programs by themselves by way of retaining them from potential revert to violence.

In a nutshell, the COVID-19 pandemic era educated us as we all have to maximize engaging youth also in the post-pandemic era. Out of them the Ethiopian predominant youth and adolescent population ought to engage as front liner of health policy by way of harnessing their demographic dividend. If one needs to end teenage pregnancy, enhance adolescent and youth nutrition, boost family planning, prevent spread of STDS&HIV/AIDS, improve safe motherhood in Ethiopia, then there is no other means other than engaging the youth. In Short, ‘Engage the Youth for the Ministry!’ will be the seasonal motto for the youth advocates.