By Richard Ssempala and Aloysius Ssennyonjo
Some of the panelists on the Youth Panel at the UHC symposium 2019
With more than half of the world’s human population under 30 years of age, it is clear that the deliberate engagement of the youths is essential in the quest to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Purposeful youth engagement will greatly benefit a country like Uganda which has one of the youngest population in the world given that 8 out of 10 Ugandans are under 30 years of age. It is against this background that the Supporting Policy Engagement for Evidence-Based Decision Making (SPEED) for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Uganda project, has in the recent past geared up its engagement with the young people on the UHC.
First, SPEED organized a special session to discuss UHC with the Youth during the third UHC symposium (i.e the Symposium on Partnerships, Policy, and Systems Developments for Universal Health Coverage) held in August 2019 in Kampala, Uganda. The participants and facilitators were all young people from various backgrounds. These youths reflected on the topic; “Putting the youth at the center and as the focus of development efforts” under the slogan “Nothing For Us, Without Us”. Several insights emerged from these deliberations. Staying true to the symposium theme, the youth committed to fostering strategic partnerships with pertinent stakeholders including government departments, cultural leaders, academic institutions to sustain participation forums for the young people.
On 11th December 2019, the SPEED team joined the youths at the Public Health Youth Symposium organized as a pre-event for the 2019 UHC day celebrations in Uganda. Some members of the SPEED team offered technical inputs during the preparations and as well as making presentations at the symposium. The symposium theme was “Opportunities and Challenges of Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Regards to Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in Uganda. The youth reflected on factors that constrain or advance their access to vital SRH interventions under the UHC agenda.
SPEED’S Knowledge Management Officer- Mr. Richard Ssempala making a presentation on health sector financing at the Public Health Youth Symposium
These events have generated information vital for harnessing effectively the contributions of the youths to the UHC agenda in Uganda and globally. First and foremost is the need for candid discussions on the effective ways of engaging the youths in public policy discussions. There is a need for continued dialogue on the challenges the young people face and the would-be opportunities if the youths are effectively engaged in advancing UHC. During our interactions, the youths raised other concerns pertinent to them including a) limited accessibility to information on healthy living and life opportunities and 2) high unemployment rates. The young people pointed out that access to information through internet-enabled platforms was expensive especially after the introduction of social media tax in Uganda. This realization is critical for UHC efforts because social media increasingly serves as both a means to share information but also a platform for discussions on topical issues in a timely manner.
From a health needs perspective, the youth discussed mental health as a critical aspect of their wellbeing. Concerns about the increasing anxiety and ‘search for identity’ were pointed out as a leading cause of mental stress and depression among the youths. “The anxiety for riches, nice items such as expensive phones, clothes among others has forced many youths into depression”- one participant remarked. The double-edged nature of social media warrants attention in this regard. Whereas its contributions in fostering youth participation was acknowledged, so was counter-intuitive effects of exacerbating mental health problems among young people through cyber-bullying for instance. Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp were highlighted as the common social media platforms in Uganda that are linked to generating such “poverty and identity” problems.
Mr. Amos Mumbere (7th edition DSTV Eutelsat Star Awards winner and a student of Makerere) discussing the causes of anxiety and depression among teens and youth at the UHC symposium 2019
Key reflections on supporting effective youth engagement for UHC advancement in Uganda.
The youth being the largest demographic group in Uganda, they can contribute substantively to achieving UHC in the country. The following are some of the recommendations for the effective engagement of the youths to advance the UHC agenda.
- Creation of regular platforms for continuous and systematic involvement of the youths in the health and UHC deliberations.
- To foster optimal use of social media capabilities, the government of Uganda should consider the unfair burden that the social media tax bears on young people who are often financially dependent on their guardians or parents.
- The designs of educational and health programmes targeting the youths should be adapted to the ability to access internet-based platforms or lack thereof. This might imply segmentation of interventions for those in rural and urban settings.
- There is a need to develop a holistic approach and partnerships to the youth problems as several factors that affect their health and wellbeing such as mental health and unemployment fall respectively at the fringes or outside the usual remit of the health sector.
One of the participants discussing the importance of involving the youth in government programmes