In module 5 of our ShE is Empowered sessions, Africa Matters Initiative asked its ShE Leaders to briefly reflect on the kinds of conversations that they would like to hear their communities or countries have around youth development. In this reflective piece, ShE Leader Joanitah Kajoba takes on this challenge about moving critical conversations forward.
I would like my country to involve the youth in conversations or discussions on the prevention and control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as cancers, heart diseases, strokes, diabetes, and others. The increasing prevalence of NCDs is a growing concern globally, especially in low and middle-income countries, where the burden of disease is transitioning from infectious diseases to NCDs. Every year, NCDs kill 41 million people and contribute to 74% of the global mortality burden. In Uganda, NCDs account for over 33% of all mortalities annually (WHO 2018).
The nationally representative household survey conducted in 2014 further unveiled that nearly 80% of Ugandans diagnosed with NCDs were unaware of their status; for example, only 7.7% of individuals with hypertension were aware of their condition, and among those who had hypertension, 76% were not being treated for their condition. However, the discussion on efforts to address NCDs to date has focused on the adult population, with adolescents largely overlooked. Worse still, premature deaths in adulthood are associated with childhood conditions and behavior associated with NCD risk factors. Many NCDs can be prevented by reducing common risk factors related to lifestyle to some degree such as harmful use of alcohol, tobacco use, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diets.
Young people have unique potential, as well as the energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and creativity to collaboratively seek solutions to complex and costly health challenges. However, in many health improvement efforts, young people are not often regarded as agents of change for healthier communities. The youth can contribute in numerous ways to prevent NCDs and health conditions in their communities. Multi-sectoral efforts are key in the reduction of the uptake of unhealthy behaviors in young people to improve their health outcomes as adults and to address the growing burden of NCDs on health systems.
I would like to see the government working towards increasing the youth’s access to information and capacity to act on that information in shaping their own lives and determining their health status. Health information can be delivered to the youth through direct, meaningful interactions and health promotion activities like theme-based competition drawing, debates, quizzes, writing, sports, plays, and storytelling. With participation in community organizing and social media as informal indicators, young people are taking an increasingly prominent role in efforts to improve population health.
In conclusion, there is a need to empower young people to advocate for policies and practices that improve NCD prevention and care. NCDs prevention should be incorporated in the agenda of international, regional, and national youth groups. I urge both government and non-governmental organizations to support the young people in awareness initiatives to inform the public and decision-makers about health problems and solutions.