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Africa’s youth already drive the AMR discourse despite resource constraints, shaping the future of public health

By Fowzia Mohamed Sheikh
on March 21, 2024

On March 5th and 6th, 2024,  ReACT Africa  officially launched the African Youth AMR Alliance Task Force  in Nairobi, Kenya, at an inaugural workshop. ReACT Africa, which brings together experts and key stakeholders to form technical working groups on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), convened the workshop with participation from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), representatives from the government of Kenya, Africa CDC and others.  The taskforce comprises youth-led organizations collaborating to address AMR in Africa, representing a crucial milestone in combating AMR on the continent.

As you no doubt know, Africa is the youngest continent, with a projected population of 1.3 billion people by 2030. More than 60% of these will be below thirty years old. This demographic reality is not merely a statistic but also a powerful force shaping the continent’s destiny, including in confronting the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance. Young people have already made an impact in various areas affecting the continent, including health, climate change, and more in general, through youth inclusion in decision-making processes. However, inclusion needs to be improved further, among others in fighting threats to global health security in Africa. Youth can also play vital roles in terms of advocacy and awareness.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the top global public health threats, and this is no different in Africa.  In 2019 there were 1.05 million deaths associated and 250,00 deaths directly attributed to bacterial drug-resistant infections in Africa. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics have fueled the rise of resistant strains of bacteria, rendering once-effective treatments ineffective. If left unchecked, AMR could jeopardize decades of progress in modern medicine and lead to increased mortality rates, prolonged illnesses, and economic turmoil.  Africa, where the burden of infectious diseases is the highest, grapples with a dilemma of both access to, and excess of antibiotics. The continent is also still battling the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, leaving healthcare systems overwhelmed and resources stretched.

The African Union launched the continental framework for AMR  in 2020 and endorsed in the same year the African common position on AMR,  clearly stipulating the strategies to be carried out in mitigating AMR on the continent. These include, among others, creating awareness and education. In spite of many years of efforts in building capacities and addressing resistant pathogens within hospital settings, additional focus on community level intervention is crucial as  consumers of antibiotics mainly buy drugs over the counter, there’s little prescription.  African countries are currently at different levels in implementing some of the strategies to tackle AMR outside the hospital setting.

Role of youth

The role of youth in advocating for change and driving solutions on AMR is very crucial. Lots of contributions have already been made by youth in this respect, for instance in African countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria where youth-led organizations are leveraging social media, community outreach programs, and innovative technologies to help raise awareness about AMR, promote responsible antibiotic use, and advocate for policy reforms. By way of example, we list here the efforts of youth-led organizations such as: Students Against Superbugs Africa – based in Kenya, Alliance Against Antimicrobial Resistance – based in Nigeria, Youth Actions Against Antimicrobial Resistance (AJRAM) based in Burkina Faso, Roll Back Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative based in Tanzania and Generational Stewards for Antimicrobial based in Zimbabwe.

Through educational campaigns, workshops and advocacy events, they are educating the communities on the harm posed by AMR. These initiatives are not only amplifying the voices of young people but also catalyzing tangible change in their communities. Indeed, youth advocates are not just the leaders of tomorrow but also the catalysts for change today. Yet, despite their enthusiasm and dedication, young advocates are faced with a myriad of  challenges to do their work effectively, including limited resources. Many countries allocate a small portion of their national budget  to the health sector and more often than not, those budgets do not cater for youth and youth-led initiatives. The lack of funding jeopardizes their involvement in community engagement interventions, including to empower other young people in contextualizing the drivers of AMR at both community and national level. Moreover, young people are often marginalized and not included in the decision making process. This also clearly hinders their ability to speak out on AMR and contribute to AMR efforts on the continent.

Way forward

Africa’s public health future is undeniably intertwined with the actions and aspirations of its youth. By harnessing their creativity, passion, and resilience, we can unlock a brighter future for Africa and build a continent  where antimicrobial resistance is curbed. It is time to recognize the pivotal role of young people in shaping the AMR conversation and provide them with the support and resources they need to lead us towards a healthier, more sustainable future. To address these obstacles and harness the full potential of youth engagement, it is imperative for national agencies, civil society organizations (CSOs), and strategic institutions like Africa CDC  and WHO (Afro) to prioritize their inclusion in decision-making processes.  At all levels, including the global level – as you might recall, later this year, a UN High-Level meeting on AMR is scheduled. In New York, the voices of African youth need to be heard too on combating AMR.

AMR youth leaders from across Africa meeting in Nairobi, Kenya

About Fowzia Mohamed Sheikh

Fowzia is a global public health and development specialist currently supporting African countries in strengthening health systems and responding swiftly to disease outbreaks by employing evidence-based, data-driven decision-making and policies. She serves as the AMR focal point for Africa CDC in the Eastern Africa Region, providing technical support in the implementation of The African Union Framework for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) 2020-2025.

About Hafeez Hamza

Hafeez is an Executive Board Member of the Young World Federation of Public Health Associations, he works in amplifying the voices of youth and advocates for meaningful youth engagement in global health initiatives. Hafeez also works as a Patient Care Lead, striving to improve access to essential medications, with a particular focus on underserved populations in low- and middle-income countries.
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