Saturday, May 30, 2009

Imbalance Access To Anti-Retroviral Therapy: A Shameful Medical Injustice!

Mark was four when his parents died of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). He was forced to live with his 80-year old grandmother but things were not as easy as he thought for the grandmother was too poor to take adequate care of him. He was disappointed but that was just the beginning of the agony.

At 12 when his Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) metamorphosized into AIDS, the last resort became the government hospital which became a hell he never expected. He was ostracised and dehumanised by patients and health workers. They felt very uncomfortable with him and told him that to his face. He lived in isolation broken-hearted.

Meanwhile the only life-saving drug that could keep him going is beyond his reach. He is poor and his grandmother died two years earlier. The government, the last resort in this battle cannot cope anymore with the increasing number of victims whose last resort relies on the drug. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Mark died few months later, even though he could have lived as long as he wanted if the drug and care was there for him.

Mark’s case is not strange but just a fragment of what numerous others with the virus go through to prolong their life. The Anti-retroviral drugs are not there and when they are, they are beyond their reach. Poverty and poor healthcare system are the two main reasons for this injustice especially in developing worlds with the sub-Saharan Africa as the worst hit.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the anti-retroviral is still eluding vast majority of the people living with the virus. In the early 1990s when the drug became available, HIV/AIDS was transformed from a death sentence to a manageable disease but only for some. The cost of the drugs coupled with unequal distribution pattern prevented about 95 percent of those living with the virus from getting access to them.

The worldwide fury that millions were dying because of income inequality in accessing the drugs resulted in its price reduction and the 2002 foundation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Through the Fund and the US President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, the world saw a massive production and distribution of antiretroviral treatment in many developing countries. Since then healthcare workers have adapted to settings where people often could not access even the most basic care. At the moment millions of lives which otherwise might have been lost are being saved. Equally important, providing treatment is becoming a focal point of the efforts to prevent further spread of the disease.

Presently more than three million more people around the world are alive due to the drugs. This is a big jump from 350,000 just about five years ago. If this trend continues, by 2010 more than five million people are likely to have access to these drugs.

However we still have a long way to go before the victims who need them can access them. Presently the need is for about 10 million people, but until we can control the growth in new infections, that number will continue to grow. Africa is obviously the place this attention needs to be shifted as a result of the havoc the virus is causing there and the inability of the victims to access the drugs. Poverty remains the main reason for this. Poor health care system and corruption are other major reasons.

Six years ago at the opening of the 11th International Conference for People Living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, Ben Plumley, Chief Executive Officer at the UNAIDS decried that it is a, “serious injustice to see that only one percent of the 4.1 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who need anti-retroviral therapy have access to it”. He charged the conference to look for ways to close this vast gap opining that they are under a moral obligation to do so and tackle the intolerance, corruption, fear and inequalities that prevents people from accessing the services they need. Sadly the situation still remains the same.

For more than 25 years, HIV/AIDS have been ravaging the lives of millions of people. Since the outbreak, nearly 30 million people have died. But over the past few years, a quiet global revolution has enabled millions infected by the virus to live healthily. However more are still to be done! For instance in Haiti with a population of 9.6 million, 115,000 people are living with the virus while only 13,586 are on anti-retroviral treatment. India has a population of about 1.13 billion with 2.5 million living with the virus while only 126,400 are on the treatment. Mali with a population of 12.2 million has 130,000 living with the virus with only 15,450 on the treatment.

In Peru with a population of 27.9 million, 10,400 are on the treatment out of 93,000 living with the virus. Russia has 31,000 on the treatment out of 940,000 living with the virus in a population of 143.2 million. In Rwanda out of 150,300 living with the virus only 44,400 are on the treatment in a population of 9.2 million. South Africa has a population of 47.4 million out of which 5.5 million are living with the virus but it is only 488,739 that are receiving the treatment. In the neighbouring Swaziland with a population of 1 million, about 20,610 are on treatment out of 220,000 living with the virus while in Vietnam with a population of 84.2 million, 132,628 are living with the virus while 14,180 receives the treatment. Nigeria with a population of 145 million has about 3.5 million infected with the virus with only 124,572 on the treatment. What happens to the rest of the population that could not be placed under this therapy? Pain, agony and sorrowful death become the only way out!

The good news is that free antiretroviral treatment is saving millions of lives today and that is enough reason to continue widening access to it. However, the main challenge is preventing new infections and confronting the injustices in accessing the drugs especially for millions in the third world. Worldwide three people are infected by HIV for every person that begins treatment. To stem the tide, we must reverse those numbers. In doing so, fear and stigma is reduced, more people will dare to be tested and it will become easier to talk openly about how it spreads and how to protect against infection.

But there are still other challenges. Even where those infected have access to antiretroviral treatment and their immune systems begin to recover, infections and illnesses they have already developed because of HIV may take their lives. Tuberculosis continues to be the leading cause of death likewise Hepatitis, liver diseases, Pneumonia and HIV-related cancer. Nonetheless Anti-retroviral treatment is generally successful. After six months on the treatment, eight out of every ten people who started are still alive.

The success in rolling out antiretroviral treatment against terrifying obstacles should inspire us to go for the test and since there is no cure yet, testing remains the only way to nip it on the bud.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Staving Off Threats To The World’s Children

Despite the universal embrace of standards for protecting children and childhood, a new United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) report released recently shows that more than half of the world’s children are still under the bondage of extreme deprivation owing to poverty, war and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) pandemic.

These are “conditions that are effectively denying children the good childhood they deserve and holding back the development of nations”, says UNICEF in its 10th Annual Report on the State of the World’s Children.

The State of the World’s Children’s Report which is an annual publication by the UNICEF, records progress made globally on the improvement recorded in the area of the welfare of children. It highlights the agenda for the coming year by emphasising the critical areas that require urgent attention in order to ensure child survival, development and participation campaigns.

The report with the theme, “Children Under Threat” examines three of the most widespread and devastating factors threatening children today namely HIV/AIDS, conflict and poverty. The report is of the opinion that more than 1 billion children are denied the healthy and protected upbringing promised by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child stressing that the failure by governments to live up to the Convention’s expectations causes permanent damage to children. This situation the report noted, blocks progress towards human rights and economic development.

Launching the report at the London School of Economics, the Executive Secretary of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy decried the fate of world’s children in recent times. “When half of the world’s children are growing up hungry and unhealthy, when schools have become targets and whole villages are being emptied by AIDS, we’ve failed to deliver on the promise of children. Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood. Poverty doesn’t come from no where, war doesn’t spread by choice of its own. These are our choices”, Bellamy said.

The report which was launched at the same time around the world also held that more than half of the world’s children are suffering extreme deprivations from poverty and lacks the simplest basic amenities that are very essential for the welfare of life and highlighted that while one in six children is severely hungry, one in seven lacks basic health care and one in five has no safe water with another one in three having no toilet or sanitation facilities at home.

The report raised an alarm on the havoc being done by HIV and AIDS pandemic on women and children and noted that the virus is not only killing parents but also destroying the protective network of adults in children’s lives. UNCIEF says that almost half a million children under the age of 15 died of AIDS in 2003 while another 630,000 were infected with HIV during same period. By 2003 some 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV/AIDS, most of them infected during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding. From 2001 to 2003, the number of children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS rose from 11.5 million to 15 million. About 80 percent of those affected live in sub-Saharan Africa.

“HIV/AIDS is tearing at the very fabric of childhood. Around 15 million children under the age of 18 had been orphaned by the pandemic by the end of 2003. Eight out of 10 of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Unless action is taken swiftly and decisively, to stem the tide of infections and losses, it is estimated that by 2010 over 18 million African children would have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS”, the report further revealed.

“The loss of a parent implies the disappearance of a care-giver. It pervades every aspect of a child’s life, their emotional well-being, physical security, mental development and overall health. It deprives them of the right to live in a family environment. Many of the ailing and dying are teachers, health workers and other adults on whom children rely. And because AIDS prevalence grows in condensed pockets, once adults start dying the overall impact on surviving children in a community is devastating”, it added.

According to the State of the World’s Children report, the proportion of women living with HIV has risen steadily that “nearly half of those who are HIV positive are women or girls. The pandemics ‘feminisation’ is most apparent in sub-Saharan Africa where close to 60 percent of those who are HIV positive are female”.

The report was of the opinion that “faced with economic hardship, women and girls become more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking in which they have little power to negotiate safe sex” and revealed that girls are likely to succumb to the lure of transactional sex, entering into relationship with older or wealthier men in exchange for money, goods and other basic services. This transactional sex, the report said, greatly increase their risk of contracting the HIV virus even as it strongly added that the world has the capacity to reduce poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS and improve the plight of its children.

The presentation of the report in Nigeria coincided with the World Human Rights Day and while speaking on the relevance of the day to the report, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who spoke through a representative, described children as the most valuable assets that must always come first and be put into consideration when human rights are being discussed since they are voiceless.

His words, “We cannot celebrate human rights without taking into account the most important assets, the children. Unfortunately the right of children are not being respected world-wide especially in Africa and West Africa in particular”.

The ECOWAS boss, made a passionate call to the Governments of the sub-region to take a closer look at the Convention on the Rights of Child opining that development begins with the children. His view echoes that of the UNICEF report which affirms that the world has an unparalled opportunity to fulfil the rights of the children in terms of “resource, knowledge, money, technology, strategies and people are available in abundance”.

Bellamy put it in unambiguous phrase, “the quality of a child’s life depends on decisions made everyday in households, communities and in the halls of government”.

In Nigeria, the situation has constantly been one of woe for children particularly in the rural settlements. The Nigerian child has continued to suffer child labour, negligence, trafficking, brutality, sexual exploitation and many other vices from the adult folk. People are not even aware of the paedophiles and we do not have sex offenders register. A recent attempt to persuade a part of the country to stop early marriage of the girl-child was met with a very stiff opposition with a holy book as a reference. Apart from the concerted efforts of some non-governmental organisations, little has been seen beyond the lip service from the government.

The Minister of Women Affairs, Obong Rita Akpan, had while launching the report given an assurance that her ministry has put in place measures to implement some of the provisions of the report. She promised that the measures would include a child advocacy campaign and would be well circulated to all stakeholders.
“I am optimistic that at the end of the day the report will bring better living conditions for our children”, she promised.

Meanwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo had in a recent special presidential media chat with four members of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament, assured that his administration would do all within its power to see that children’s rights are always protected opining that “you are very important to us and you are the future leaders of this nation. We therefore cannot take your welfare for granted otherwise we will suffer for our negligence tomorrow”.

The presidential promise has a ringing tone akin to that of a rain in a desert. While the rest of the worlds are busy backing up their words with action, Nigeria is still fiddling and promising while its children are burning. Against this backdrop of endless promises and inaction, the UNICEF boss warned, “If we fail to secure childhood, we will fail to reach our larger, global goals for human and economic development. It’s that simple”.

Bellamy’s warning echoes that of the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, “Much as we move closer to realising the rights of all children, will countries move closer to their goals of development and peace”.

Friday, May 22, 2009

WHO And A Quest For A Disease-Free World

The World Health Assembly, the supreme decision-making organ of the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded its 58th session recently. More than 2,200 people from WHO’s 192 member states, non-governmental organisations and other observers attended the meeting. A controversy over the participation of Taiwan in the Assembly nearly marred it. For the umpteenth time, apparently on the direction of China, a permanent veto-enjoying member of the United Nations Security Council, Taiwan was refused an observer status.

China had in a submission made to the Assembly objected to the acceptance of the request of Taiwan to be given an observer status, claiming that Taiwan is not a sovereign entity but an indivisible part of the mainland China. The Assembly under the presidency of Elena Salgado, the Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs of Spain, after a long and careful deliberations on the health condition of the region which once threatened the whole world with SARS epidemic, politely voted to reject China’s request.

The commencement speeches at the opening ceremony highlighted the Assembly’s passion to see in no distant future a disease-free world. WHO Director-General, Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, encouraged delegates to determine the best ways to bring available health solutions to everyone who needs them while the president of the Republic of Maldives and guest speaker of the Assembly, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, spoke on the recent devastation caused by the tsunami and the continuing efforts to reconstruct homes, communities and lives.

Bill Gates, billionaire owner of the Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, addressing the Assembly in person for the first time announced an additional donation of $250 million towards solving some of the world’s health problems especially in Africa and developing countries. The Money brings to $450 million the amount Gates has committed to his Grand Challenges in Global Health Programme project created few years ago. Grand Challenges in Global Health Programme project is a sort of competition intended to entice the world’s foremost scientists, researchers and inventors into finding groundbreaking solutions to health problems.

Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF, while stressing the importance of child survival in a world where almost 11 million children die before their fifth birthday eulogised the naming of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as WHO goodwill ambassador.

A landmark achievement of the Assembly was the adoption of the revised International Health Regulations which govern national and international response to disease outbreaks. “This is a major step forward for international health. These new regulations recognise that diseases do not respect boundaries. They are urgently needed to help limit the threats to public health”, said Jong-Wook.

The revision of the International Health Regulations has been under way for several years. The original one agreed to in 1969 was designed to help monitor and control five serious infectious diseases viz Cholera, Yellow fever, Smallpox, Relapsing fever and Typhus. The new one will govern a broader range of public health emergencies of international concern including emerging diseases like Swine flu. The purpose of the International Health Regulations is to ensure the maximum protection of people against the international spread of diseases while minimising interference with world travel and trade. It includes a list of diseases such as Smallpox, Polio and SARS whose occurrence must be notified to WHO and also a matrix for countries to decide whether other incidents constitute public health events of international concern.

Also a new global partnership aimed at improving public health decision-making, through better health information was approved and adopted by the Assembly. Tagged, “The Health Metrics Network” (HMN), the partnership comprising of countries, multilateral and bilateral development agencies, foundations, global health initiatives and technical experts will increase the availability and use of timely reliable health information by catalysing the funding and development of core health information systems in developing countries.

“Today despite the efforts of many countries, regional and global partners, there are significant gaps in the health information that is available to policy makers and health practitioners. In some areas of the world, even basic facts such as a person’s birth, death and cause of death are not recorded”, said Jong-Wook.

The Health Metrics Network will work to close this gap by helping countries improve their ability to gather this vital health information”, he added.

Another major highlight was the approval of the proposed programme budget for 2006-2007, which includes a four percent increase in the Regular Budget and the establishment of the World Blood Donor Day as an official annual event to be celebrated every June 14. The Assembly in adopting the date noted that it reached the agreement in order to raise awareness and promote voluntary blood donation globally. The theme for the first edition is “Celebrating Your Gift Of Blood” and will highlight true stories of people whose lives have been changed by blood.

The day will be celebrated across the globe with one city representing the fulcrum of activities. London the capital of the United Kingdom was chosen for the first edition remembrance as a result of what the Assembly described as ‘capital of a country, which has a solid tradition of collection of safe blood supplies by relying on voluntary unpaid donation’. The day will provide the global community the opportunity to raise awareness on the need for blood and blood donors. Over 80 million units of blood are donated every year around the world but only 39 percent is collected in developing countries where 82 percent of the global population live.

A reliable supply of safe blood is essential for scaling up health at several levels particularly for women and children. For instance, more than half a million women worldwide die every year from complications related to pregnancy and child birth, 99 percent of them in developing countries. Haemorrhage, accounting for 25 percent of the complications is the most common cause of maternal deaths. Up to 70 percent of all blood transfusions in Africa are given to children with severe anaemia due to malaria, which accounts for about one in five of all childhood deaths in Africa.

Reviewing progress made so far in Polio eradication, the Assembly identified what needs to be done to interrupt the final chains of wild-type Poliovirus transmission world-wide by the end of the year. According to WHO six countries are hot spots for the virus in the world and they include India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Niger and Nigeria. They have to be tackled. Of all these, Niger and Nigeria have the highest rate. Nigeria is actually leading.

On the issue of HIV/AIDS, the Assembly welcomed the progress made so far in scaling-up treatment and care within a co-ordinated and comprehensive response even as it underlined the urgency of Smallpox vaccine reserves and research on the Smallpox virus. Nigeria with more than 3.7 million people living with HIV and AIDS still has an unenviable record of being the third highest nation with HIV and AIDS victims in the world after South Africa and India.

Similarly the 58th Assembly also addressed the issue of increasing cases of multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis and worsening morbidity and mortality among HIV-positive Tuberculosis patients by adopting a resolution on sustaining financing for Tuberculosis prevention and control. The resolution called on member states to set up collaboration between TB and HIV programmes and to integrate the prevention and control of TB in the mainstream of their health development plans.

Recognising that too many people suffer and die in crises and disasters as a result of untreated and often preventable health problems, the World Health Assembly adopted another resolution on health action in crisis and disasters with particular emphasis on the earthquakes and tsunamis of December 26, 2004. The resolution called on WHO to provide early warning of disease outbreaks, improve access to clean water and sanitation and increase the availability of health care for people’s physical and mental health even as it urged member states to formulate disaster preparedness plans and pay more attention to gender-based violence as an increasing concern during crises.

To address the more than one million preventable deaths caused by malaria each year, the Assembly agreed on a resolution to step up efforts to fight the disease. “Malaria remains the infectious diseases that takes more lives of children in Africa than any other, three times as many as HIV infection”, said Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF.

According to a recent WHO report, in 2003, some 350 to 500 million people worldwide became ill with malaria, a slight revision of the estimate of 300 to 500 million annual cases that WHO has used since 2000. Against that backdrop the Assembly called on WHO to intensify its collaboration with member states to reach internationally agreed malaria control goals, including the possibility of WHO undertaking bulk purchase of insecticide-treated nets, anti-malarial medicines and vitamin A supplements when people are immunised.

Responding to the rising level of cancer worldwide, the World Health Assembly agreed to promote a cancer prevention and control strategies for all member states. “It is the second leading cause of death. More than 20 million people are living with cancer and seven million people die annually. The incidence of cancer is on the rise in both developing and developed countries as a result of increased exposure to cancer risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity as well as some infections and carcinogens. A rapidly ageing population in many countries is also a contributing factor”, the Assembly noted and therefore called for an improved cancer prevention measures, better early detection and treatment and increased palliative care.

On the much-hyped Millennium Development Goals, the Assembly adopted a resolution on “Accelerating the achievement of the internationally-agreed health-related goals including those contained in the Millennium Declaration”, urging developed countries to make efforts to scale-up official development aid to 0.7 percent of gross national product and called on African countries to fulfil the commitment made at the African Summit in Abuja 2001 to allocate 15 percent of their national budgets to health.

Infant and young child nutrition was also discussed leading the Assembly to adopt a resolution calling on member states to continue to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life as a global public health recommendation. Member states were urged to inform health care workers, parents and other care givers on the best practices for preparation, use and handling of powdered infant formula in order to minimise health hazards even as it warned them to be cautious of the fact that powdered infant formula may contain pathogenic micro-organisms and therefore should be prepared and used appropriately.

The 58th Assembly also deliberated passionately on the hydra-headed issue of the international migration of health personnel, particularly highly trained and skilled health personnel moving from developing to developed countries. Against this backdrop a resolution was adopted requesting the WHO Director-General to strengthen WHO’s programme on human resources for health. It was unanimously agreed that the issue of development of human resources for health would be the theme of the 2006 World health Report and World Health Day 2006 and would also be a key area of work in WHO’s General Programme of Work for the period 2006-2015.

The Assembly noted that the countries from which these health personnel are emigrating from have already started experiencing a drain in their health sector and raised an alarm that if nothing is done to halt the trend, it would not only hinder the countries’ quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but also increase drastically their disease burden.

WHO had earlier noted that Africa which has 25 percent of the global burden of disease boasts a meagre global health workforce of 1.3 percent. About 23,000 qualified academic professionals emigrate annually to Europe and America in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. Nigeria has the highest rate of international migration of health personnel in Africa. Newly registered doctors declined from 1,750 in the year 2000 to 800 in 2002, a 60 percent reduction. By 2002, Nigeria had a nurse population ration of 1:20,700 compared with the WHO recommendations of 1:1000.

A resolution on disability was also approved by the Assembly which is aimed at substantially improving the lives of some 600 million people living with disabilities. It also gave a substantial time to the issue of Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) which is a leading cause of brain damage in childhood and therefore called for renewed efforts to eradicate the problem in member states with a higher incidence of iodine deficiency. A lack of iodine intake during pregnancy and early childhood results in impaired cognitive and motor development in young children. The solution to IDD is simple and cost-effective as iodine can easily be added to table salt.

Though iodised salt intake is essential for healthy growth and development, the excess intake of the substance is also a major contributory factor to the increasing incidence of high blood pressure while low intake could result in goitre and low Intelligent Quotient (IQ) especially in growing children and other similar diseases like cretinism (reduced growth), dry skin, constipation, still births and miscarriages.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In Search Of Agenda For Youth Empowerment

Nigeria born world-acclaimed computer guru, Philip Emegwali, once gave a lead on the danger of not laying a solid foundation for the nation’s teeming population of youths. In his famous speech on brain drain he raised a poser: “How do we reverse the brain drain?”

Giving the background to the issue, he observed: “We came to the United States on student visa and then changed our status to become permanent citizens. Our new citizenship status helped us sponsor relatives and inspired our friends to immigrate here. What few realise is that Africans who immigrate to the United States contribute 40 times more wealth to the American than to the African economy. Furthermore, because a significant percentage of African doctors and nurses practice in the US hospitals, we can reasonably conclude that African medical schools are de facto serving the American people not Africans”.

He made a suggestion: “I believe those with skills should be encouraged and rewarded to stay, work and raise their families in Africa. The best African musicians live in France. The top African writers live in the United States or Britain. The soccer superstars live in Europe. It will be impossible to achieve a renaissance without the contributions of the talented”.

The dilemma facing the Nigerian youths in an attempt to heed Emegwali’s advice formed the fulcrum of a discussion at a recent programme in Kaduna, Kaduna State, Nigeria. Participants at the national youth parley organised by the British Council examined this issue and took government to task on the need for a sustainable action plan for this critical sector of the nation’s population.

Steven Kidds, one of the forum participants and the national chairperson of the Scottish Youth Parliament, for instance, could not see the reason why Nigerian cannot usefully tap the potentials of its teeming and resourceful youths.

“This is the first time am coming to Nigeria. When I was coming, I heard a lot of horrible things about Nigeria which are supposed to dissuade one from coming. But here I am today. In fact, Nigeria is blessed with a good number of talented youths. But I think the problem is that Nigeria as a nation has no blueprint on youth empowerment and inclusion in governance”, he said as a matter of fact.

His view was re-enacted by Dr. Osisioma Nwolisa a professor in the Political Science Department of the University of Ibadan. He reeled off: “He who wishes to walk on a cold ground must first pour water on the ground. The youth (of a nation) are regarded as the leaders of tomorrow. Leadership is a sacred function, which is quite different from rulership, headship or command; and therefore requires proper and adequate education, training and orientation. In serious societies that plan their lives and progress far ahead of time, the youths are given proper, adequate and functional socialisation, training, education and orientation to equip them.

“Unfortunately in Nigeria, nobody cares about the youths and the tomorrow they are to lead. Since independence in 1960, youths when gathered for a function are told that they are the leaders of tomorrow but that tomorrow has never been allowed to come and they are not being prepared for that leadership”.

Flustered by what they see as a truism in Nwolisa’s assertion, the participants in a twelve-point communiqué demanded that: “there should be a considerable and consistent youth representation in the decision-making bodies in the country. Policies should be geared towards building the capacity of youths to participate in government through the acquisition of information and communication technology skills, conflict management and cultural exchange programme to enhance the quality of their participation in decision-making processes”.

They also said, “That the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently in use needs to be amended with specific reference to the reduction of the age limit of qualification for election and appointment into political offices to correspond with the voting age. Also copies of the constitution should be simplified and translated into various indigenous languages and made readily available to all youths both in formal educational institutions and in the informal sector”.

As they put it, there is nothing wrong in empowering the youths and including them in the helms of affairs of a nation which will eventually fall on them tomorrow. It is because of this that any serious minded nation does not joke with the interest and future of its youth. This is with due respect to the often-repeated cliché that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow. The orientation they receive today is exactly what will help them tomorrow to pilot the affairs of the nation as elders for if the youths fail then tomorrow is not assured.

Kidds said the 300 member Scottish Youth Parliament is a body of youth representatives from the provinces of Scotland recognised by the law and the government with the task of developing and enhancing the welfare of the youths. They also look into issues that affect them and how best to solve them in order to give them a bright future. A case of young people talking to young people.

According to Kidds, “we want to be different. We want to make the views of young people heard by those people who should be listening to us, but we want to do it in a thoroughly innovative way. We recognised that traditional models don’t always work and it is our belief that young people should be able to make a difference in a way that suits them. We think it is possible to make the whole process interesting and exciting”.

The idea of a youth parliament is still very foreign to African nations and Nigeria in particular. They can do this by taking their future into their hands. The need for them to form a very strong national pressure group cannot be overemphasised. Our future is in our hands. Nigerian youths thrive in thuggery, violence and the likes apparently because of their poverty, unemployment and selfish motives of some unscrupulous politicians.

In the words of Osisioma: “In Nigeria, the youths are not just neglected but are also being wasted in several ways despite the presence of the National Youth Service Corps programme and several ministries of youth and culture. The most outstanding way of youth’s wastage in Nigeria is the absence of a programme to generate millions of jobs annually. As a result, millions of youths are not productively engaged to increase national wealth and thus are forced to become parasites on the society”.

This has a negative effect on the thinking of present day youths and even on the nation. One of the effects is the problem of brain drain among young talents who leave the shores of Nigeria to look for the Golden Fleece in America and Europe.

Against this background one of the young participants, Yemi Asaju, raised a poser: “What is the need for me to stay in Nigeria to contribute towards it when the nation is not ready to appreciate my contributions. Moreover if the government cannot make a sacrifice to train me, why would I make a sacrifice to contribute to the government?”
But the simple truth is that even as these youths have a head flowing with dreams, visions and ambitions, the Nigerian government in particular has got no blueprint to tap them, the forum stated.

Yusuf Pam, Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice in Plateau State of Nigeria while addressing the forum said, “As young people, a comprehensive knowledge of your rights is vital to your development and positive contribution to the improvement of our societal norms and values in future. You are the future of Nigeria and its hope for stability and prosperity. You must educate yourselves in these matters and take full advantage of the benefits of a forum such as this. Sharpen your leadership skills, dedicate yourselves to the service of your country and strive to serve to the best of your ability”.

On the contributions youths can make towards national growth and development, Dr. Imman Abdulrahman of the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies of the University of Jos opined that the youths have a formidable role to play in the area of ensuring an everlasting peace in the nation. In his words, “when we talk of peace and national development, youths assume a central position along this continuum. This explains the axiom ‘youths are the leaders of tomorrow’ because it is to them that the baton of governance, administration and leadership shall be released tomorrow. The onus of leadership and continuity in any society rests squarely on the youth. They possess the agility and the intellect that can be tapped to make a positive development and a remarkable change in the different sectors of the national life.

“But for them to become a responsible entity in the society will require their maximum utilisation via gainful employment. This in the long run will prevent youth restiveness and youth engagement in violent conflicts, armed conflicts and unnecessary soldiering that have now become the vogue of our time. Let it be made clear that Nigeria has no secured tomorrow without well prepared youths to lead that tomorrow in global competition in this era of globalisation”.

Is there a solution in sight? “We must stop the wastage of our youths and come out at levels of government with well-prepared programmes for our youth development based on a well-articulated national youths development and empowerment policy. This should be backed up with a well planned and adequately funded educational system. Finally for this country to know, feel and enjoy domestic security, the Federal Government should call a meeting of all states and local governments along with itself and the private sector on how to generate two million jobs annually for the next five years”, advised Osisioma.

Talk of acknowledgement of the fact that something drastic needs to be done to appropriately shape Nigerian youths for meaningful adulthood and everyone concurs. But what exactly needs to be done and how to do it remains the Herculean task.