By Ine Tollenaers
Today is World Health Day, a day on which we celebrate the progress made on health issues and ensure the challenges ahead are not ignored. Despite the progress made on health and medical research, providing good health services is still a challenge, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Life-saving treatment was developed during the last decades for AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. However, in 2015 alone, almost 3 million people died from AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis, of whom a vast majority lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, 68% of the global disease burden for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria is accounted for by sub-Saharan Arica, while they have only 4% of the world’s health force.
ONE Youth Ambassadors were keen to share their personal stories about health challenges, both globally and in Africa. They are all young and passionate about health, and tell inspiring stories about where that passion comes from, what they think are our major health challenges and their solutions.
Dorothy Adobea – The turning point in life
“Is it normal that she never gets sick?” That’s what my mum asked our doctor on our last visit. The doctor laughed and said that he too never gets sick.
It’s true: I’m privileged with good health. I realise how lucky I am. But I didn’t always realise it.
A few years ago, I went to the Institute of Tropical Medicine to get a vaccination before leaving on holiday. There was a young man sitting in the waiting room together with an older lady, I guessed his mother. Unknowingly I went in the waiting room and sat down. It took me a while before I sensed the heavy atmosphere in the room. I looked up and saw the young man with tears in his eyes, the lady had her arms around him. He was whispering: “What about Lies? How am I going to tell her? How am I going to raise her?” The lady answered silently: “It will be okay.”
An overwhelming sense of discomfort came over me. I had forgotten that some people went to the Institute to get tested for HIV and not to get a vaccination shot. A second sense of shame came over me. Because there I was, sitting in a waiting room so that I could go on holiday. And there he was, sitting in a waiting room, being diagnosed with a chronic condition. Two worlds in one room.
That was the day I decided to become a sexual and reproductive health advocate.
Nathalie Symens – Health issues and their solution: A story from Ghana
When I was working for two local NGOs in the Volta Region in Ghana, I experienced a few issues which are not the first you would think of when hearing about poor health in developing countries. Health illiteracy, stigma and patient rights are very much interlinked and can be addressed by education.
Health illiteracy is causing a lot of harm. Due to poor or no education, many people do not understand how you can get sick and how you can prevent or treat some diseases. Even a young mother that was educated by the NGO I worked for, told the young researchers (studying HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in the region) who I was guiding, that getting HIV is just a curse from God.
Stigma is attached to many diseases but importantly to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and mental and physical disability. Some people believe these disorders and infections are the choice of God. Therefore, people living with a disability or with HIV/AIDS can be seen as a danger to the community, so they get excluded. This gives rise to people hiding themselves or their family members and fearing to seek medical help, for example.
People think it is a privilege a doctor or nurse helps them when they are sick. In many cases, patients are sent home with some pills and that’s it. Due to the low number of health workers, they do not have the time to explain the disease, cause, treatment and prevention methods to every single patient.
Jeffrey Moxom – The importance of health education: A story from Zambia
Today, World Health Day, is a chance to reflect on what good health is really about. Working with local communities in Zambia’s Central Province, we witnessed some challenges facing young people first hand.
It’s not only that a lack of accessible healthcare is a dangerous reality for many in remote areas, but political and cultural barriers also exacerbate ill health and sustain extreme poverty. At the health systems level, problems with the distribution of antiretroviral drugs means that many people suffering from HIV are still unable to get the treatment they need. We have it within our power to make access to medicines a reality. There is still a long way to go, but we must be ambitious, we must pressure our governments to act.
On the ground, we also heard direct accounts of the cultural difficulties for youth in obtaining contraception and the stigma surrounding it. Teenage pregnancy causes thousands of girls to drop out of school every year, including at primary school level. Despite such difficulties, we worked with many inspirational peer educators who were working hard for change. For us, this highlighted the crucial role that education can play, to ensure that young people have access to the information they need. Education is empowerment.