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With 400,000 deaths a year and recent progress in the fight against the disease having stalled, the WHO has warned much more has to be done to combat malaria

Fifth Estate

Bring the youth on board for an inclusive fight against malaria

Over the past two decades, significant progress has been realized in the global efforts to roll back malaria. For sub-Sahara Africa, and Kenya in particular, the fight is far from over. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa bears a disproportionately high disease burden, with 95% of reported cases and 96% of malaria-related deaths. In Kenya, 10, 700 lives are lost every year due to this preventable and treatable disease.

For a long time, the youth have been marginalized in the fight against malaria. This is despite most of them being willing to fight the disease. A survey released in March 2021 by RBM Partnership to End Malaria, indicates that 9 out 10 African youth want to take personal action in the fight against malaria.  More than 66 percent believe that the disease can be eradicated within their lifetime. Their willingness to take initiatives against the disease shows that they are affected even though they are not the most vulnerable demographic; children under the age of five and pregnant women. Youth are forced to take up the responsibility of caregivers when their family members catch malaria, diverting their energy and finances from education or work. This is always a daunting task given the burden they already carry.

The youth are more vulnerable to economic shocks due to unemployment or irregular pay. In addition, they are mostly absorbed by SMEs that lack the financial muscles to cater to their welfare in case of emergencies. This coupled with the high cost of living, securing a health insurance cover for them comes as secondary. Some young people, when faced with problems, resolve to substance abuse and later fall into depression, and other health risks. In 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled Universal Health Coverage under the Big Four Agenda, aimed at easing the medical burden of Kenyans but after almost five years, the impact of the initiative is yet to be felt at household level.  Young people are forced to dig deep in their pockets to pay for medical bills.

Their hopes are vested in political leaders but with every change in power, their problems have remained the same. Given their numbers, aspirants in the upcoming election are pulling every stop to win their support. However, going by the turnout in the recent voter registration drives, young people are disillusioned due to the empty promises that characterize Kenyan politics. Youth participation in the electoral process is likely to be low in the upcoming election in August if they are not convinced by aspirants through their manifestos.

To solve the current stalemate and prevent the youth from giving up on seeking change through elections, we at The Youth Café, a multi-award winning youth lobby group, in partnership with International Republican Institute, launched the ‘National Youth Manifesto 2022’ and we are calling out parties and presidential candidates to use it as a benchmark in engaging the youth in leadership. Among other things, we have listed areas under our social protection pillar that need commitment ahead and after the general election. One critical area that remains a barrier to youth progress is access to affordable healthcare. We are urging political parties to align their manifestos with ours. A boost in budgetary allocations in the fight against malaria and other communicable diseases is one of the grievances listed.

The pursuit is in line with the ongoing continental ‘Draw a line against malaria Campaign,’ which has attracted support from other youths across Africa and especially celebrities, who are putting a voice on malaria eradication. Notably, is marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge who in the past has been negatively impacted by the disease. Connected to the campaign, President Uhuru Kenyatta, the current chairman of African Leaders for Malaria Alliance (ALMA) locally launched the ‘Youth Malaria Army’ and called upon other African state leaders to follow suit. Similarly, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria created a youth workstream; the youthful formations are tasked to champion political and resource commitment in the fight against malaria. The inclusion of the youth in the aforementioned initiatives shows the realization by health stakeholders of the power held by the youth in eradicating Malaria.

Under the broader fight against malaria in the continent, Malaria no More and African Leaders for Malaria Alliance (ALMA) among other partners, are calling on the governments, private sectors, and individuals to increase efforts in the fight against malaria. The organizations target to end Malaria by 2030. Malaria eradication will take a collective contribution and especially from the youths, who are energetic, have the numbers and the necessary skills to eradicate the disease.

Willice Onyango, Executive Director at The Youth Café

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