Earlier this week, African Ministers and other distinguished guests gathered for the High Level Ministerial Meeting (HLMM) in Addis Ababa as part of the third International Conference on Family Planning. The event centered on discussing the interventions necessary for improving the health and well-being of young people, investments that are critical for achieving the demographic dividend.
An estimated 63 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population under the age of 25
The key takeaway? Meeting the family planning needs of young people—including access to voluntary, rights-based information, services and supplies—is one of the most important investments for unleashing Africa’s economic potential.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the youngest populations in the world, with an estimated 43 and 63 percent of the region’s population under the age of 15 and 25, respectively. This means that resources are spent on the immediate needs of a large share of youth, diverting resources from quality improvements in their health and education, savings, and other forms of growth-generating investments. As these young people enter their working-years, they can become the driving force behind countries’ prosperity, but only if family sizes decline and young people are healthy, educated and employed. Family planning is key to making this happen.
However, young people in Africa continue to face many challenges when it comes to contraceptives, including legal and cultural barriers, misinformation, lack of access and high costs. How can we overcome these barriers to help delay first births, keep girls in school and facilitate labor market entry?
Here’s what African leaders at the HLMM said:
- Addressing policy barriers by, for example, raising the legal age at marriage;
- Providing more youth-friendly services, including proper training of health workers so that they are more responsive and respectful of youth needs;
- Incorporating young people in decision-making, program/policy design and implementation;
- Ensuring access to comprehensive sexuality education from an early age in order to dispel myths;
- Fostering partnerships between governments, financial institutions, civil society groups and others to better serve the needs of young people; and
- Addressing taboos and cultural barriers by employing agents of change like religious leaders as community-level family planning champions.
By increasing youth access to contraceptive information, services and supplies, African policymakers can maximize opportunities for young people and help them realize their full potential. Importantly, the growth in income per person could be substantial for Africa if the right investments are made, ranging from 6.5 percent in Nigeria to almost 27 percent in Ethiopia by 2040. However, strong political will and increased financial investments are pillars for making these changes possible and, so far, donors and governments are not providing enough funding to satisfy needs.
We’ve seen and heard the evidence and we know what works. The question now is whether these discussions will translate into action for sustained social and economic development.