I Report on the First African Youth Forum on Maternal infant health and development in Africa.

Maureen, Laiton, Sean & Dr. Simon

The first ever African Youth Forum took place from 17th to 19th July 2010 at the Imperial Botanical Beach hotel  in Kampala Uganda.  This took place ahead of the African Union summit. The focus of the youth forum was to capture the voices of the youth from various African Countries and make sure that their concerns are addressed.
Sponsored by UNICEF, the theme was “maternal infant and child death: The youth call for action”, a number of questions had to be answered to find solutions to the epidemic “maternal mortality”. Majority  of the questions based on the “WHY”
·         Why do young Mothers die more than old mothers?
·         Why are young girls getting pregnant?
·         Why are the young boys/men getting them pregnant and not taking responsibility?
·         Why do so many lose their lives when pregnant of giving birth?
·         Why is the issue a young person’s issue?
·         Why do/don’t young girls abort?
·         Why don’t teachers teach about maternal death and continue to harass them?
·         Why does the community make them vulnerable?
If you cannot understand why, you cannot take the right decision
At the forum, it was noted that the patricial system affects the girl child and yet  many a times, society  doesn’t take action. The only way to reduce on maternal motality was to involve all parties; the individuals, the community and the Government .
In his speech during the official opening of the forum, Mr. Ben the Pan African Youth Union president said that the youth should have the spirit of UBUNTU to help enhance unity and development.  Mr. Alhaji who spoke on behalf of UNICEF Executive director Mr. Anthony Lake expressed his gratitude to Uganda for hosting the first African Youth Forum ahead of the African Union Summit. He acknowledged that the youth were the majority on the African continent and therefore had a big role to play in transforming the continent, he however mentioned that highest leadership as adoption of modern technology like mobile phones for rural communities are some of the factors that can enhance youth involvement.
Mr. Alhaji said that UNICEF supported the forum to mainly capture the voices of the youth from rural areas to make sure they are heard and their concerns addressed. He concluded by pledging UNICEF support to accompany youth effeort.
His excellency the president of Uganda Mr. Museveni wondered if the theme was relavant for the youth, he said that to be young , you have to not only be health but productive in a social, economic sense and not biologically. Mr. Museveni mentioned four key issues that could reduce on maternal and infant deaths in Africa; Immunization, Hygiene, Nutrition and behavior change to avoid catching HIV/AIDS. He said that Youth a lone cannot bring change, they need a conducive atmosphere like good infrastructure and electricity which are not clearly defined in Africa.
He conclude that if the youth are to get actively involved in issues that concern them, then we need a complete socio-economic transformation of the entire African continent.
On my part, I represented the Special Interest Group on Mobile health in Kampala. Together with UNICEF Kampala, Mobile Monday Kampala and the Faculty of Communication and Information technology, makerere, we were show casing some of the currently used mobile health applications for projects in rural Uganda  like Rapidsms, Find Diagnosis as well as OpenXdata.
The youth forum started on 17th and ended on 19th Jull 2010.

Cervical cancer: A threat to Women’s life expectancy

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide and the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in developing countries. According to the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), global statistics show that nearly nearly half a million new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. And more than a quarter million women die of this disease annually, with the highest incidence and mortality rates being in sub-saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia. Cervical cancer is the most common female cancer in Uganda. At Mulago hospital alone, 80 percent of women diagnosed or referred with cervical cancer, have the disease in it’s advanced stage.
The causes of cervical cancer have been attributed to early engagement in sexual activities, multiple sexual partners and multiple marriages. Cecil Helman in her book Culture, Health and Illness, identifies that the disease is rare in nuns and common in prostitutes. And while in recent years, there has been a growing understanding of how people’s gender identity determines the nature of their ill health, their vulnerability to disease, their ability to prevent disease and their access to healthcare.  The dimension of feminist theory and females experience puts males’ hostile sexuality at the biopsychological core of men’s subjugation of women. In most situations, a woman’s risk of getting cervical cancer will depend less on her sexual behavior but more on that of her husband or male partner since the disease can be transmitted from woman to another, with men acting as carriers. This mostly applies in communities with cultures that expect men to have many premarital and extra marital affairs as proof of their masculinity, while barring women and looking at them as eminently available and seducible.
Usually women contract the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) between their late teenage years and their early 30’s. But most often cervical cancer is found much later, usually after age 40, with a peak incidence around 45. There is a long delay between infection and invasive cancer, hence killing many annually often because it goes undiagnosed for many years. And yet the disease is preventable and can be detected and treated at an early stage when the cure rate is virtually 100 percent. Ignorance of the disease of the disease might not be the only threat, but limited access to screening and therapy for precancerous lesions and the low acceptability of pelvic examinations are also contributing factors towards the high prevalence of cervical cancer. Women might also have no control over possible disease transmission if they fail to decide when and where to seek medical attention or when and how they have sex. The imbalance of power between women and men in gender relations curtails women’s sexual autonomy and expands male sexual freedom, thereby increasing women’s vulnerability.
According to PATH, prevention of cervical cancer can be done in two ways; Preventing infection initially or detecting the precursors to cervical cancer and providing treatment. The former can be accomplished by avoiding exposure to the virus through abstinence from sexual activity or through mutual monogamy(when both partners were not previously infected). Condoms only offer 70 percent protection against HPV when used all the time. Vaccination is the other preventive method. PATH is working on incorporating HPV vaccination into a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention programme, through developing a vaccine delivery strategy, a communications strategy for out reach to communities, and an advocacy strategy for outreach to policy makers. Vaccination can be combined with screening. Every woman deserves the right to the highest attainable standard of health, especially the many millions of women who confront illiteracy, poverty, poor sanitation, and medical facilities that are inadequate and physically/ economically inaccessible.

Mothers deserve Better: m-Health and e-Health must feature in this AU summit.

With the theme “Maternal infant and child health and the development of Africa” the forth coming 15th Afican Union (AU) summit scheduled for 25th to 27th July in Kampala Uganda is meant to find solutions to reduce on the high maternal deaths in Africa.
Uganda has been chosen as the host for the 15th African Union summit because of her effort and contribution towards the fight for peace and stability on the continent. Uganda sent troops to Somalia to contribute to the peace in that region and she a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Prior to the summit, an African Youth forum with the theme “Maternal Infant and Child health: African Youth call for Action” will be held at the Imperial botanical beach hotel in Entebbe from 17th to 19th July 2010. This is a very good initiative by the African governments to involve young people in matters that will affect their future.
Uganda, like many African nations has limited resources in terms of man power and health facilities to enable her provide quality health services for mothers, infants and children. According to the report by Population Action International which based its figures from the Uganda National Health Policy, “supplies and medicines may either be unavailable where they are affordable or unaffordable where they are available”. This prevents low-income women from accessing basic medicines due to the high cost of purchasing drugs from private pharmacies. Worldwide over 350,000 women die due to preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth. The main causes are bleeding, infections, abortions and obstructed labour among others. The majority of women who die during or as a result of child birth are low-income earners from marginalized groups. Despite advancement and availability of technology interventions to save mothers and babies, maternal deaths have continued with 99% of deaths in developing countries of Africa and Asia.
As the African heads of state and leaders meet in this 15th AU summit, it is important for them to focus on issues of violence, human rights, education and poverty which are some of the key underlying causes of maternal and infant mortality. They must also not forget to intensively discuss the role Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play in preventing mortality and come up with feasible solutions on how different governments can tap into this potential of ICTs. With an increasing range of devices for communicating and disseminating information, Mobile and electronic health applications are very powerful tools in solving a number of health related problems. These include; sharing information on health related issues, monitoring treatment of patients as well as monitoring health workers. Given the fact that mobile phones cut across literacy levels and have been adopted by many women in rural areas all over Africa, it is important for the African governments to invest in mobile technology and e-health Applications.
The Ugandan ministry of health should partner with Organisations/ institutions like Text-to-change, Mobile Monday Kampala, Faculty of CIT at MUK, SMS media, UNICEF and Women of Uganda Network(WOUGNET) through her SMS campaigns to tap into the potential of mobile and electronic application as a starting point in solving the problem of high maternal deaths.
If the Millenium development Goal of reducing deaths for newborns and children is to be achieved within the remaining five years, our leaders have to “WALK THE TALK” in the upcoming government leaders meetings like the African Union (AU)- July in Kampala and the G8 summit-September in Canada.

This aticle was also published in the main stream media, The Newvision

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Open Chat on Blogging and HIV/Aids

In commemoration of World AIDS Day, Rising Voices hosted a live chat on Wednesday, December 3rd at the 3 p.m. Nairobi time. The chat was facilitated by Serina Kalande and Daudi Were and the discussion was building on a similar chat that Serina and Daudi organized back in April of this year which asked the following question: “how can citizen media be used to supplement and improve the mainstream media’s coverage of the AIDS epidemic? This chat focused on one of Rising Voices grantee project, “REPACTED” in Nakuru. We learnt how the organization has implemented blogging and video outreach programs to spread awareness about their initiatives in AIDS prevention and advocating for the rights of HIV-positive individuals. Other discussion topics included; * Factors to weigh when HIV-positive bloggers go public about their status,
* How blogging and Network forums support networks form online,
* What are other new media tools, such as mapping mashups that can be used effectively? As a primer to the conversation, members were encouraged to take a look at a recent post written by Juliana Rincón on Global Voices about “AIDS awareness through video”. Especially fascinating is a video pod cast produced by QAF Beijing, which interviews South African grand justice Edwin Cameron, the country’s only government official who has gone public about his HIV status. http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/11/27/aids-awareness-through-video/ It was a very interactive and important open chat. The next chat was scheduled for 9th/02/2009. Feel free to join next time http://www.worknets.org/chat.