Comprehensive Sexuality Education for millions of young people in Eastern and Southern Africa

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© UNESCO

UNESCO has marked a milestone in its efforts to equip young people in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) with the knowledge needed to change the discourse of the HIV epidemic forever.

In June 2015, UNESCO, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), met government officials and key stakeholders in Maputo, Mozambique to review the second year of progress in a project to strengthen sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention in eight countries: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, South Sudan and Namibia.

UNESCO promotes the needs of young people in the HIV response through its efforts towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. It builds country capacity for effective and sustainable education responses to HIV by strengthening health education, which includes CSE, and by advancing gender equality and protecting human rights.

Research has shown that 60 per cent of young people in ESA still lack the basic knowledge to prevent HIV due to their limited access to sexuality education. A total of 430,000 new HIV infections are contracted among young people (aged 15-24) each year but health services are often denied them due to age, marital or legal status.

The three-year project is expected to reach 35,000 schools, 74,000 teachers and 15 million learners across the region by December 2015. It focuses on building political commitment and the capacity of education and health sectors, strengthening the quality and implementation of sexuality education curricula and improving community engagement in young people’s access to sexuality education and health services.

So far, the project has trained over 90,000 teachers in sexuality education, 197 teacher-training colleges and reached almost 2.4 million learners across the region.

Dr. Patricia Machawira, Regional HIV and Health Education Advisor with UNESCO, who expressed her gratitude to SIDA for its support, said: “This project is transforming the lives of millions of young people across the region. It is critical in building young people’s knowledge of their own sexuality, allowing them to make informed decisions so that they can live healthy and empowered lives.”

“We need the active mobilization and actions from all segments of society including high-level commitment from the government and community leaders,” said B. Djaffar Moussa-Elkadhum, Head of the UNESCO Maputo Office which hosted the event.

Health and education ministers and representatives from 20 countries in ESA made a regional commitment to supporting young people’s access to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) in 2013.

They agreed on a common agenda to deliver CSE and youth-friendly SRH services to adolescents and youth to strengthen national responses to the HIV epidemic, reduce new HIV/STI infections, early and unintended pregnancy and reinforce care and support, particularly for those living with HIV. The ESA Commitment process was led by UNAIDS with the support of UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, bilateral and civil society partners and young people’s organizations.

As part of this ministerial commitment, UNESCO aims to accelerate the implementation of CSE across the region.