On March 27th, the Malawi National Plan of Action for Youth was launched by Siman Vuva Kaunda, the country’s Youth Development and Sports Minister, along with Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe. This plan seeks to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of Malawi youth and provide a framework to coordinate existing actors working in the country. The Malawi government created the plan, which liberally defines youth as people ages 10–24, with the assistance of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Malawi experiences one of the highest HIV-prevalence rates in the world, with 13 percent prevalence in the rural areas and 25 percent in urban areas. The primary mode of transmission is heterosexual sex. The populations most significantly impacted are youth and what the World Health Organization terms “mobile populations,” those who spend extended or repeated overnight travel outside of their community and home. The prevalence rates among 15– 24 year olds in some areas are significant, calculated at 3.4 percent for young men and 9.7 percent for young women, with the high estimates reaching 5.91. The stark disparity between male and female youth reaches an almost unfathomable scale when focusing on the 15 – 19 year age group, where more than four times as many women than men are HIV positive2. The Malawi government hopes to address the confluence of factors which increase the vulnerability of young women through this National Plan of Action for Youth.
The Plan of Action seeks to scale up sexual and reproductive health and HIV-prevention efforts to stem the transmission of HIV among the youth population as well as tend to the youth’s broader sexual and reproductive health needs. The plan acknowledges the barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services, and outlines goals for increasing youth-friendly services and youth participation in programming. The intention behind this plan is to address the many real barriers that youth experience in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Whether there is a real impact on youth experiences or not will not become evident until the implementation stages are underway.
One of the strategic objectives of the plan is to strengthen capacity to sustain evidence-based, HIV-prevention programs, including the promotion of safer-sex practices. This approach branches out from the dominant AB messaging and programs that PEPFAR encourages through the funding that Malawi receives as a PEPFAR focus country.
The plan of action also focuses on livelihood activities to addresses the economic vulnerability faced by youth, and by young women in particular. Economic vulnerability and unstable food sources often place youth in the dangerous position of engaging in transactional sex merely to survive. This practice may take on a more commercial form as sex work, or may manifest as girl or young woman with an older boyfriend who provides school clothes or dinner in exchange for sex. Access to livelihood activities ranks among the highest priorities for curbing the vulnerability to HIV infection: approximately 65 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. While programs explicitly addressing sexual and reproductive health are the cornerstone of the national plan, the complementary focus on livelihood activities add another dimension of support to ensuring the well being of Malawian youth.
“In the realm of sexual and reproductive health programming and policy, youth are often set off to the way side,” remarked William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, “Ideological battles over the appropriateness of engaging youth in matters of sexuality and reproductive health often overshadow the actual needs of youth. In the creation of its new plan, Malawi has asserted boldly that a youth- focused strategy on sexual and reproductive health needs is a national priority. We applaud the vision and intention behind the Malawi National Plan of Action for Youth and eagerly await the results of this effort.”
- Malawi: Epidemilogical Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infection, (New York, NY:The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS/ World Health Organization, December 2006) accessed 5 May 2008, http://www.who.int/GlobalAtlas/predefinedReports/EFS2006/EFS_PDFs/EFS2006_MW.pdf.
- Summary Country Profile for UNAIDS Treatment Scale Up, (Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, December 2005) accessed May 2008 http://www.who.int/hiv/HIVCP_MWI.pdf