According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), the number of HIV infections in Nigeria is on a decline. However, over 50% of new infections is found among young people. Statistics like this should get everyone really worried because it reveals a vulnerability that is often ignored – young people are the most affected by the failing health system in Nigeria. It is only logical to conclude then that if young people bear the brunt of the many health problems in Nigeria, they should be at the front line advocating for better health care and services in Nigeria.
The new government came in on the mantra of change and one of the promises made was that of improved health services for everybody, and as Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu of Nigeria Health Watch puts it, “We are hopeful for change. But as responsible citizens, we must learn to hold our government accountable for the promised change”.
Large Population Of Nigerians Are Young People
The National Bureau of Statistics estimates that young people between the ages of 15-35 make up about 40% (70 million) of Nigeria’s total population. 40% is a large percentage to ignore and if the young people in Nigeria will come together to demand that government invest more in the health of its citizens, I bet no government, whether present or future, will be able to ignore them.
Young People Are Largely Affected By The Issues
As mentioned earlier, young people are largely affected by the issues. It is the case that there is usually a lot of emphasis on maternal and child health as well as geriatric care while adolescent and youth health is largely ignored. Despite the fact that there are policies and numerous adolescent and youth health strategies, there is almost no implementation and nobody is asking questions. Young people need to start asking questions and holding the government accountable.
Young People Are Strong, Passionate And Creative
It goes without saying that the strength of a nation lies in its young people. The Nigerian youth, despite all odds is determined to succeed and they always find innovative ways to become pace setters in every field. Imagine the results if all 70 million young people in Nigeria were to bring all that strength, passion and creativity into advocating for better health services in Nigeria.
Young People Are Active Users Of New Media
The world is in the age of Industrial Technology and the young people of this generation are often referred to as the “millennials”.New media often referred to as social media has become an indispensable tool for social change and young people in Nigeria have not been left behind. Nigerian youths are one of the most active users of social media in the world. Now, if they were to channel all that activity on social media into advocacy and campaigns for better healthcare, the government will notice, the world will notice and they will have no choice than to act.
Young People Are Future Leaders
The saying that “youths are the leaders of tomorrow” has become a cliché, giving a lot of young people a false sense of entitlement. Now more than ever, young people have to prove themselves worthy to take on the leadership mantle. Advocacy gives young people an opportunity to engage with the issues as well as the government and can be very good training for that future leadership position.
How then, can young people become health advocates?
Be Knowledgeable About The Issues
Knowledge, they say is power. The reason a lot of young people either do not get involved or are unable to see their advocacy efforts to a logical conclusion is because they lack knowledge of the issues. So, before you embark on any advocacy effort, it is advisable to learn as much as you can about the issue. Exchange your knowledge for power!
BE INTERESTED IN THE ISSUES
It is not just enough to be knowledgeable about the issues, you have to do something with that knowledge and you have to be interested enough to want to do something. Think about the friends and loved ones who have been lost unnecessarily as a result of the failure of the Nigerian health system, think about how you are directly affected by these all too evident gaps in the system- make it personal!
After interest comes engagement. The combination of knowledge and interest should make you want to engage with the issues. Engagement may be as complex as engaging policy makers or as simple as a twitter post or signing a petition. Just do something, take action!
Be Consistent In Your Efforts
Consistency is key in any advocacy effort – results will not come overnight and sometimes, may be so little, you want to give up. Celebrate your successes, no matter how little and keep pushing. Only those who persevere and are consistent in their advocacy efforts are sure to get desired results.
Set Good Examples
Ah! Never underestimate the power of exemplary behaviour. That little action you think no one notices may just be what spurs another young person into action or deters them completely. So, set good examples always.