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Leaving a Legacy of Youth-led Malaria Interventions and Empowered Youth in Uganda

In 2019, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Malaria Action Program for Districts (MAPD) in Uganda launched Vijana Leo (Youth Today), a community-based, youth-led malaria activity to address the barriers that limit youth’s access to malaria-related health services. Banyan Global’s MAPD gender and youth team worked with the district health teams and community leaders in Yumbe Town Council in northwest Uganda to build the capacity of 43 youth champions to design and implement malaria prevention and case management activities such as football tournaments, sanitation days, and community theater to share malaria prevention and treatment information in 23 villages.

These activities enabled health workers from Yumbe Health Center IV to reach 1,372 people (609 men and 763 women) with important information on preventing and treating malaria, including in villages that contribute the most to the Yumbe district’s high positive malaria test rate. With support from local council leaders, the youth champions collaborated with the village health teams to lead sessions for community members on long-lasting insecticidal net use and care, the dangers of self-medication, the importance of not delaying seeking treatment, and the limitations of using traditional medicines and witch doctors to combat the disease.

Vijana Leo’s legacy goes beyond its impact on health outcomes in communities across northwest Uganda. The activity amplified the voice and increased the participation of youth in malaria programing. For example, two of the youth champions were promoted to village health team members; three youth champions have been assigned roles with the community youth council as mobilizers and data entry personnel; and a team of youth champions who are also drama actors were recently recruited to the district’s COVID-19 task force team to produce skits and key messages related to the coronavirus. Tiziru Arafa explained the impact the activity has had on her as a youth champion: “Before, I could not speak in public as a girl, but my fellow youth champions encouraged and supported me [to speak in public] when we conducted activities.”

MAPD youth champions display their certificates to recognize their contributions to malaria prevention and treatment in northwest Uganda alongside the senior district educator (left) and Banyan Global’s MAPD youth specialist, Ricky Orenia (right).

In late January 2021, MAPD held a transition event to transfer ownership of the activity from MAPD to the Yumbe District Health and Community Development Department. Vijano Leo youth champions took part in the meeting because, as youth champion Ocimati Richard explained, “Now it’s [time for] us to take action against malaria in Yumbe district.”

During the event, MAPD staff and members of the department awarded the youth champions with certificates to recognize their contributions. The youth champions also debuted video aides that they developed and co-produced, which will serve as instrumental sanitization tools by delivering key messages to viewers in order to address major social barriers that hinder timely access to malaria prevention and case management among young men, women, and youth in the community. Banyan Global’s MAPD team will continue to work with the Yumbe distict health team and youth champions to finalize the transition plan to guide the sustainability of youth activities in Yumbe district beyond the life of the project.