On 6-7 December 2013, education and health ministers from 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, to agree on a political commitment on the need for sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services in the region. These recommendations have the potential to bring about critical improvements in the education, wellbeing and life chances of millions of young people as well as the development of the region as a whole.
This ministerial meeting will be a defining moment for the HIV epidemic, for young women and a turning point in the history of how adolescents and young people are empowered to exercise their rights to education, health and citizenship.
With all the evidence pointing to the benefits that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services can provide in a rapidly changing society, why is it so vital that the region’s health and education ministers make this commitment in December?
A recent report on the region, Young People Today. Time To Act Now, shows that while there have been encouraging gains in terms of HIV in this region – 6,3 million people are on treatment and far larger numbers of people are living longer and healthier lives - there are still 50 new HIV infections every hour among young people, with the majority occurring among young women. Less than 60% of young people in the region still don’t know basic facts on preventing HIV infection. As well as HIV, young people face many other sexual and reproductive health issues particularly early and unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths.
Addressing these issues requires bold action from ministries of health and education with support from a range of partners. The delivery of CSE from primary school onwards, by trained teachers, and access to SRH services are key components of an effective response for young people.
Ministries, civil society organisations including youth organisations and partners have been holding meetings at country level to review the evidence and provide input to the content of the ministerial commitment. UNESCO, with its partners, is committed to making sure adolescents and young people have what it takes to lead healthier and more informed lives.