The COVID-19 outbreak repercussions on the socio-economic futures of young people in Africa are every day more challenging. As a continent, Africa is one of the youngest in the world, with 70% of people under the age of 30. There is no doubt that young people are increasingly driven and passionate – and together they hold the power to change the way the continent approaches public health challenges.
As a continent, confederations and leagues driven mainly by young generations are powerful tools to raise awareness against epidemics and to promote prevention even in the most distant parts of Africa.
For instance, the Africa United Against Ebola campaign reached more than 300 million people during the Ebola pandemic and raised awareness of key prevention methods. Another campaign that youths took part in, called United Against Malaria, spoke out against this devastating disease that continues to claim around 400,000 lives a year, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Communication and making the right information easily available are very effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and young people have access to these powerful tools through social media and the internet. Not only can they share life-saving information about the pandemic to others, but they can also use their online platforms to ensure public awareness campaigns are undertaken. Today, almost everyone has a mobile phone – with approximately 80% of us now having access to one. Although internet access only stands at 36%, this grew by almost 9% in the last year with many more of us getting online.
African young people have also recently supported the World Health Organization’s ‘Safe Hands challenge’, which raises awareness of good hand hygiene. Meanwhile, in partnership with Speak Up Africa, they are supporting the pan-African ‘Stay Safe Africa’ campaign, which aims to stop the spread of COVID-19 across the continent.
And through sport, the young minds have launched an online challenge called #19KickUpsAgainstCovid19, a campaign that calls on African football legends and featured footballers like Ahmed Hassan, Perpetua Nkwocha and Khalilou Fadiga, to perform the kick up the challenge and post it online, to spread awareness to their many followers. After all, while COVID-19 seeks to tear us apart, football brings us all together.
Having witnessed and seen the power of youth, the African Union has even created a Specialised Technical Committee on youth, culture and sports, which recognizes the interconnected nature of each of these elements.
Earlier this year, UNESCO also held its own ‘Sports Challenge against COVID-19 in Africa’, which called for youth to make videos displaying skills and creativity when taking part in a sporting activity, as a contribution to strengthen their health and fight against COVID-19. There is one common theme, by taking part in sport, you can help improve Africa.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has posed many challenges for our young people – with schools closing, jobs at risk and incomes jeopardized. Despite this, young people are the most resilient of all. I am a firm believer that the young recognize the future needs of Africa better than most, and if we do not listen then we will never progress.
Through the young generations, many people are already learning skills of teamwork, communication and determination. These skills can and should be transferred to driving public health changes.
Young people are already at the heart of the African continent and without their commitment to fight and rally against COVID-19, we will be unable to move forward. Young people should be central to reforming service delivery architecture including improving health infrastructures and dealing with other pandemics. Once we empower young people, we will empower Africa, don’t you think?