Empowering adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa during COVID-19

School closures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted almost 92% of the world’s student population. In sub-Saharan Africa, where high rates of new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence and child marriage, continue to threaten young people, the negative consequences of confinement on health and well-being are heightened.

As part of UNESCO’s work supporting countries to mitigate the impacts of school closures, particularly for more vulnerable communities, UNESCO is reaching out to 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa through the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (03) program to ensure that children and young people understand basic, age-appropriate information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including its symptoms, complications, how it is transmitted and how to prevent transmission.

Digital channels and radio programs will be harnessed to communicate sexual and reproductive health information to young people. A series of videos and short articles for young people have also been developed, aimed at helping them to cope with COVID-19 school closures.

Supported by the Governments of Sweden, Ireland, Norway and France, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, as well as funds received in UNESCO’s capacity as a member of the UN Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), 03 is the world’s largest comprehensive sexuality education program. It envisages a Sub-Saharan Africa where adolescents and young people are healthy and resilient and have the capacity to reach their full potential and contribute to the development of their community, country and region.

“COVID-19 has not only interrupted the delivery of education, but it has also affected the provision of comprehensive sexuality education, and basic services provided by schools such as nutrition, linkages to sexual and reproductive health care and support to address and prevent gender based violence,” said UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Education, Stefania Giannini.

“The 03 program is perfectly placed to respond to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to its strong emphasis on health education and its experience with recent outbreaks of cholera and typhoid in sub-Saharan Africa. It reflects UNESCO’s recognition of education, health and gender quality as the three pillars of the education system, and in 2018-2019 alone, reached almost 15 million young people with life skills based comprehensive sexuality education.”

Ambassador Anna Brandt, Permanent Representative of Sweden to UNESCO, said, “Early and unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and gender-based violence don’t stop in periods of crisis or school closures. Neither does our support. Through Sweden’s funding, UNESCO will reach over 30 million young people in Africa with good quality comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) by the end of 2022.”

The O3 programme benefits 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with a specific focus on 23 focus countries and programme acceleration countries which benefit from targeted funding and intensive support.

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