Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a joy and pleasure to be with you all today; thank you—AMREF—for your kind invitation. We are appreciate your efforts alongside the Ministry of Health and other partners, for making this event possible.
I particularly want to thank all the young people in attendance – representing many countries across Africa.
It is always inspiring for me to spend time with citizens like yourselves – who are so full of zeal – and to have conversations that shape the public agenda around issues that matter to you.
More and more, our world is waking up to the reality that it is our youth, who will lead the kind of reformative work that is urgently needed around the world.
It is our youth who will solve some of the most perplexing and pervasive global problems we have.
You are our change catalysts; you are our innovators; you are our present and our future.
Today, is particularly exciting for me because of the issues on our agenda—Public Health. It is an area that is very significant for me, personally, and which I have dedicated the last three years to.
I believe that this meeting provides us with a platform to engage upon the challenges and opportunities that exist in our public health sector, and how we can best address public health issues as we strive to deliver on the SDG’s.
As Africans, the direction of our conversation is shaped by the Africa’s Agenda 2063, which is comprehensive in the vision it lays out for our continent in terms of healthcare.
One of the goals we must share as a continent, is the ideal of an inclusive and responsive healthcare system that caters to the needs of all people—including youth.
Youth friendly healthcare systems that respect the needs of youth, and the core values of our communities, are critical to empowering this generation and securing socio-economic and political stability for the future.
And one of the leading public health issues affecting youth which we need, as a continent, to address is HIV.
Today, HIV is the leading killer of youth in Africa—which is extremely disheartening given the amount of information we have about this disease, today.
Africa is home to more than 60% of people living with HIV in the world and has 72% of HIV-related deaths.
Over 70% of infected youth have either acquired the disease through dangerous sexual practices or they were born with the disease.
These realities are troublesome.
They demand our immediate attention and our committed and concerted investment to dealing with them.
Addressing this HIV challenge requires the inclusion of our youth to come up with youth- centred, youth-led interventions.
Youth must be able to access health information and services they need and understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
But dealing with the challenge of HIV among youth also requires that we deal with social issues:
attitudes, stigma’s and harmful social practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which persists despite being largely outlawed.
I believe this social changes will come, partly, from the urgent prompting of young people themselves.
In our midst, we have examples of the kind of courageous action from youth that brings transformative change to our communities.
I applaud young Shiluni in particular, for her bravery in saying no to FGM. I know she is one of many courageous girls standing up, and making their voices heard, at great risk and at great cost.
These young girls challenge us as parents, leaders and policy makers to step up, and meet our obligations to protect our young people from social processes and practices that hold them back.
They challenge us to act urgently and do more.
They challenge us to urgently move from rhetoric to action.
And they challenge us to listen – because we will only know what youth need, and how to bridge the gaps that they experience in our public health systems, if we listen.
Which is why I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of a forum that brings together so many stakeholders in the public health sector, including policy-makers and youth.
As we listen to one another, I am confident that we can craft the kind of solutions and reforms that truly benefit young people and rewrite the story of Africa.
It is now my great pleasure to warmly welcome Her Excellency Dr. Gertrude Mutharika, First Lady of Malawi and President of OAFLA, to offer her address, and officially open this conference.