The impact of COVID-19 will have an irreversible effect on progress that has been made if governments do not redouble their efforts and move forward with ever greater commitment to adolescent wellbeing. What is needed – now more than ever – is greater economic investment and infrastructure development in health, education, technology and protection while ensuring the involvement of young people in the policy discourse.
This is the outcome of an exploratory study undertaken by MIET AFRICA and the Human Science Research Council (HSRC), the report of which was recently launched.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, some progress had been made in improving adolescents and young peoples’ lives, although economic inequalities meant that the benefits had not been enjoyed by all young people. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has not only exacerbated challenges experienced by the most vulnerable but has made every young person vulnerable.
“The impact of COVID-19 creates a looming danger and a global concern that there will be a reversal of progress made over the past 25 years, specifically a claw-back on education, sexual reproductive health and rights, and protection outcomes outlined by international and human rights commitments,” said Lynn van der Elst, Director of Regional Programmes at education and development NPO, MIET AFRICA.
Programme Director at the SADC Secretariat, Dr Lamboly Mbukumbeko, explained that the virus took them by surprise. “Like the rest of the world, SADC Member States’ health systems were not prepared for a pandemic of such magnitude. When the COVID-19 was declared a public emergency, only two laboratories in [the] SADC Region had COVID-19 testing capacity. As weeks progressed other countries accelerated mass testing. As governments and SADC, we need to reflect on how to better prepare for potential crises as part of efforts to building resilient health systems in the region.”
The exploratory study, conducted in May 2020 in six SADC Member States – namely, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – set out to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on adolescents and young people in the SADC Region. The research report provides an analysis of how COVID-19 has affected the lives of young people across four central themes: access to education; access to health care services, including sexual and reproductive health and rights; protection from gender-based violence; and youth participation in COVID-19 response actions.
The report further provides an overview of the realities facing adolescents and young people in accessing various support and services. It reviews the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on protection mechanisms and assesses the extent to which SADC Member States have established normative, institutional and programmatic arrangements to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We cannot effectively establish the necessary investments without listening to young people themselves. Involving the youth in the policy discourse remains critical, now more than ever,” said Research Director at the HSRC, Professor Finn Reygan. “As key drivers of transformation, their views and perspectives are important contributions and investing in them will trigger a chain reaction that ultimately leads towards a peaceful and prosperous region.”
An important outcome of the study is a call to governments and stakeholders to ensure that youth in the SADC Region are able to access education no matter where they are from, that young people have access to information and services to make informed decisions about their health and sexuality, and that they are given the agency to participate in decision-making processes.
Added Van der Elst, “The response can only be effective if all levels of policy action are involved – national governments, local authorities and civil society – working directly with the populations affected in a co-ordinated and widely publicised manner. SADC Member States should reflect on the experiences of countries that have consistently remained youth-friendly, as part of resilience efforts. These experiences include a greater focus on increases in national budgets for programmes benefiting adolescents and young people, particularly those addressing inequality.”
Click here to access the research products and watch the video.