UNICEF partners with Youth Advocates Zimbabwe in youth-led COVID-19 campaign
The youth advocates will act as ambassadors in their respective communities and in addition, they will enhance youth engagement.
Around 25 young people recently attended a workshop focusing on human-centered approaches to identifying factors that enable or affect demand and uptake of integrated COVID-19, Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and Substance Abuse prevention and services.
The workshop was organized by Youth Advocates Zimbabwe with funding from UNICEF Zimbabwe, USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance COVID 19 Emergency (USAID BHA COVID 19) and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) drew participants from 12 previous COVID-19 hotspot districts of Bulawayo, Masvingo, Midlands, Matebeleland South, Manicaland and Mashonaland East provinces.
The youth advocates will act as ambassadors in their respective communities. In addition, they will enhance youth engagement in the COVID-19 and SRH responses by creating safe spaces for adolescents and young people to access accurate and confidential information and referrals on SRH and COVID-19 through various platforms.
The platforms include social media, the Youth Helpline 393, bulk SMS, and the co-creation of art murals infusing COVID-19 and integrated Sexual Reproductive Health messaging strategically sited in high traffic zones.
The workshop informed the development of a youth-led, integrated social behavior change (SBC) multimedia advocacy strategy to tackle COVID-19/SRH in the 12 districts.
Speaking on the project Tatenda Songore, of Youth Advocate Zimbabwe said the project is targeting adolescents and young people in schools, targeting an overall total of 50,000 people.
“There is overwhelming evidence on the need to reach out to adolescents and young people with reinforcing uptake of COVID-19 Appropriate Behaviors and COVID-19 vaccines, SRH, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and HIV information, counseling, and referrals to relevant services.”
He added that as the country is experiencing a rise in COVID 19 cases among Adolescents and Young People (AYP) and the role of the Youth Advocates (YA) was to reach out to young people in and out of schools with updated relevant, accurate, and consistent information.
“It will be important going forward to amplify messages tackling stigma, precautionary measures, adherence, debunking myths and misconceptions on vaccines including risks associated with unprotected sex,” he said.
Participants developed community engagement approaches using interpersonal communication (storytelling and youth dialogues) with a particular interest in promoting the uptake of COVID-19 Appropriate Behaviors, Substance Abuse prevention, acceptability and demand for COVID-19 vaccination, and integrated Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services.
“The recent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools are a serious public health problem. Schools do much more than teach children how to read, write and count,” said Tatenda.
“They also provide nutrition, health, and hygiene services; mental health and psychosocial support; and dramatically reduce the risk of violence, early pregnancy and more.”
The project comes against the backdrop of adverse impacts from COVID-19 on education, employment, physical and mental health, and the wellbeing of populations unfolding rapidly and in an unpredictable manner. Global findings highlight that the impact on young people is systemic, deep, and disproportionate.
Honorable Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Sithembiso Nyoni, presented alarming statistics such as during the lockdowns almost 5000 girls had fallen pregnant, and 1174 cases of child marriages being recorded between January and February 5, 2021.
The Youth Advocate Helpline recorded at least 208 out of the 1,783 calls received seeking alternative emergency contraception and abortion services in January and February 2021.
According to Songore, the workshop also aimed at strengthening use of Youth Helpline 393 as a mechanism for knowledge sharing and feedback platform for integrated SRH and COVID-19.
“Categories for feedback will include rumors, questions, suggestions, appreciation, and sensitive information related to the COVID-19 humanitarian response and access to essential services. A systematic approach will be applied for collating and analysing the information to inform the key stakeholders and COVID-19 taskforce pillar on how and when best to respond to the needs of the youths,” he said.
Between September 2021 and February 2022, UNICEF Zimbabwe undertook a U-Report Poll to assess COVID -19 perceptions in schools and communities with 12,995 Village Health Workers and 3,890 School teachers on in 10 provinces.
Key highlights from the polls indicated that the top drivers for AYP not practicing prevention behaviors are the belief that youths are not at risk for catching COVID 19, and general complacency on practicing COVID-19 prevention behaviors, especially wearing of masks. While some recent evidence from the ongoing UNICEF-supported “Give it A Shot Campaign” indicates high awareness on COVID 19 of above 80% amongst the youths, the polls indicate that the top drivers for not vaccinating are concerns on vaccine safety and effectiveness as well as mistrust.
The mistrust stems from misinformation through social media, conspiracy theories and concerns about fertility, interaction with contraceptive methods which has affected the uptake of vaccines amongst the youths.
It is hoped that enhancing youth advocacy through a series of multimedia campaigns using a mix of innovative digital and interpersonal communication and community engagement approaches, Youth Advocates will strengthen demand and uptake of integrated COVID 19/SRH/ services for adolescents and young people.