In an effort to improve programming of HIV and AIDS and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) programmes targeting young people in Malawi, the National Youth Council of Malawi (NYCOM) in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development (MoLYSMD) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) - Directorate of Reproductive Health (DRH), with support from development partners and stakeholders organised the National Symposium on Coordination of Adolescent and Youth-targeted HIV and AIDS and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Programmes in Malawi. The symposium, which was graced by the Honourable Minister for Health, Dr. Peter Kumpalume (MP), was held from 28th -29th June, 2017 at Bingu International Convention Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe.

The symposium was organised as a responsive action towards the recent findings of Malawi Demographic Health Survey (MDHS 2015-16) and noted gaps in programming of youth-targeted programmes. In Malawi, more than two thirds of the national population are young people under the age of 30 and one third of the population is comprised of young people aged 10-24. This youthful population is acknowledged as being one of Malawi’s strongest assets.

However, young people in Malawi are faced with a number of social-economic challenges that may affect the realization of their full potential. One area where young people are greatly affected is sexual reproductive health. Young people are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), teenage pregnancies, child and forced marriages, and harmful cultural practices.

Recent data show that young people aged 10-24, mainly adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), are highly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS and SRH challenges. The Malawi Demographic Health Survey (MDHS 2015-16) findings show that HIV prevalence in Malawi is currently at 8.8% among women and men aged 15-49. Among young people age 15-24, prevalence is 4.9% among girls and 1% among boys showing that girls are more vulnerable than boys. SRHR outcomes for girls are further worsened by early child bearing. Rate of teenage pregnancies has increased to 29% in 2015 from 26% in 2010.

According to the National Youth Council of Malawi, Malawi has an opportunity to address the vulnerability of young people as the government has a number of policy and strategy documents to address HIV and AIDS and SRH related issues affecting the young people such as the National Youth Policy, Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) Strategy, National HIV and AIDS Strategy, Malawi HIV and AIDS Prevention Strategy, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Policy, and Family Planning Costed Implementation Plan (CIP), and there are a number of stakeholders implementing programmes across the country targeting young people. However, one of the major gaps existing in programming is a lack of coordination at national, district and community levels as various stakeholders are working in isolation hence impacting negatively on collaboration and attainment of shared goals. This gap affects effective planning, targeting/coverage, evaluation, and creation of synergies.

It is against this background that the two-day symposium was organised to bring together key players in HIV and AIDS and SRH Programming to; review and discuss the performance of existing coordination mechanisms, identify gaps in programming of adolescent and youth-targeted HIV and AIDS and SRH programmes in Malawi, and agree on key action points for improved and strengthened coordination and programming of adolescent and youth-targeted HIV and AIDS and SRH Programming in Malawi.

The symposium was held under the theme “Matching Policies with Realities on Adolescent and Youth-Targeted HIV and AIDS and SRH Programming in Malawi”. The Chief Youth Officer in the Ministry of Labour, Youth Sports and Manpower Development, Mr. Joseph Sinkhala, in his welcome remarks indicated that the theme was coined to challenge and guide the participants to reflect on the performance by asking  questions such as - To what extent do we implement the existing government policies? To what extent do we observe existing guidelines e.g. guidelines for effective coordination at all levels?

In his official opening remarks, the guest of Honour, Honourable Minister for Health, Dr. Peter Kumpalume, MP, expressed concern over the tendency of different NGOs to working in isolation. He called upon stakeholders to work in collaboration and improve coordination so the programmes effectively improve the lives of young people. He further challenged the participants to come up with practical solutions and approaches that the Ministry of Health and stakeholders can work towards. Through his bar graph presentation, the Minister illustrated the prevalence of HIV and AIDS among the young people especially adolescent girls and young women aged 10-24 and how vulnerable this age group is to teenage pregnancies.

On the other hand, the Minister highlighted the fact that while the government can make all resources and services available to reduce HIV and AIDS and teen pregnancies, young people themselves are the key and must always want to prevent themselves from HIV and AIDS and early pregnancies. He added that young people should be practical, culturally sensitive and bold.

The symposium brought together about 300 delegates from different organisations, including government and District Council officials. A number of pressing issues were addressed during the symposium most of which revolved around the thematic areas of Coordination., Youth Participation, Data Management and Use, Reporting and Monitoring and Evaluation Systems, Targeting of Programmes including Institutions of Higher Learning as well as Performance of Programmes. A symposium report containing consolidated action points and more information was slated for release later as it was still in development as we went to press.