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Friday, February 12, 2010

Fourth Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights

Teshome Woldemedhin is Youth and Gender Advisor for EngenderHealth in Ethiopia. Here, he shares his perspective on the Fourth Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, which has been held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week.

The room was abuzz after Ethiopia's president, Girma Woldegiorgis, made the opening remarks at the Fourth Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, getting things off to a promising start. The president called for increased access to sexual and reproductive health care for the poorest and most vulnerable, signaling the kind of political will that we need more of from our leaders. All too often, as Dr. Kebede Kassa of the Social Affairs Department of the Africa Union Commission later noted, "Political will is a scarce commodity."

Approximately 1,000 people are attending the conference from across Africa and elsewhere. I'm glad to see ministers of health from several countries in attendance, as well as high-ranking officers from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, World Health Organization, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, and other organizations.

In my opinion, some of the most valued participants are the youth EngenderHealth sponsored to attend--six young women and six young men ages 18-24, from our university project. This initiative works with universities and youth clubs and focuses on improving the sexual and reproductive health of youth by raising awareness, improving services at health clinics, and reducing gender-based violence. These 12 young people, who were also involved in planning the conference, can personally testify to the critical issues that African youth face.

I moderated a panel session on emerging issues in the area of youth's sexual and reproductive health. Some of the key issues raised included the vulnerability of young girls and the need to get young people more involved in advocating for better sexual and reproductive health services.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was on "South-to-South" exchange: the importance of developing countries' sharing experiences and lessons learned. I think this kind of learning and partnership is one of the key outcomes of these kinds of gatherings. Instead of working on parallel tracks, we can all learn from each other. Identifying those strategies that are the most effective, then transferring and expanding upon them, can lead to smarter HIV prevention that better meets the needs of those most vulnerable.

The open dialogue of this conference is inspiring and served as yet another humbling reminder of why EngenderHealth's work in all areas of reproductive health is so vital--in Ethiopia and beyond.

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