Whether its leading community response, or by deciding to stay at home despite the resultant hardships, young people are taking action to fight COVID-19, says Richard Dzikunu.
The notion that the coronavirus disease is just a cold, or no worse than a flu, for young people has proven to be untrue. The COVID-19 disease is infecting people of all ages according to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, from the Health Emergency Program at the World Health Organization. Although the symptoms may be more mild, and the risk of death lower, for younger (generally healthier) people they are just as capable of contracting and passing on the virus. Therefore one should not even have to show any symptoms or knowingly have come into contact with the disease before adhering to the precautionary measures prescribed by the WHO.
In times like these, we realise that investing in young people pays off. From providing direct services on the front lines at the community level to creating online campaigns, some young people are spearheading local efforts towards reducing the global pandemic. We should be inspired by the efforts and leadership of young people who are confronting the challenges head on by taking action in their communities.
Saffran Mihnar is a climate activist. Joining other amazing change-makers, he is leveraging on his network of climate activists to remind young people to wash their hands, maintain social distance, and follow all the advice recommended by the WHO. Saffran calls on World Leaders to treat the environmental crisis with the same seriousness with which we are fighting the new coronavirus disease.
In The Bahamas, Tezel Lightbourne, a 2018 Global Health Corps Fellow, is at the center of a Mercy Corps water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) program. Access to water is now more critical than ever, and Tezel is ensuring that her community on the Grand Bahama Island has access to potable water by helping to repair the water system after the wake of Hurricane Dorian. Her work is the reason why many young people, women, children, and other vulnerable groups will have access to water and be capable of observing the personal hygiene required to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
You may not be able to join the front lines like Tezel or proactively educate your peers similarly to Saffran, but you can contribute to this fight and be a leader, by staying at home. Yes – stay home.
You and I
You may wonder, why do I have to stay at home? Avoiding public spaces and limiting your movements as much as possible is essential to slowing down the spread of COVID-19 and to protecting the health of others. Mathematically, we need to balance the current ratio of doctors to COVID-19 infected patients. Healthcare systems are overwhelmed, and lack of quality care and ventilators contributes to more deaths. By staying home and avoiding infection, we help flatten the curve and reduce the stress on the health care system. Our doctors and nurses will be able to deal with fewer cases and afford services to the most vulnerable people.
As a young person, I can understand the discomfort that the youth have to endure isolation. In Brussels, I am slowly beginning to realise the imbalance in my daily life caused by transitioning from the lecture hall to virtual online classes, and numerous other disruptions to my daily routine, and learning to adjust. The full impact of COVID-19, however, is much broader than meets the eye, and it impacts young people differently across the world.
Fellowship opportunities that many have worked hard for have been cancelled. Young professionals working abroad are required to return home and long-anticipated scholarships and dream jobs are suspended indefinitely. For self-funded students abroad, the dilemma of surviving in isolation without paid work is daunting. At this moment, dreams are being shattered with many uncertainties looming. Young people feel the impact of the situation on their mental health and are in need of emotional support, whilst physically isolated and separated from those who would usually provide it. Take action by keeping virtual communication channels open to your peers and support the dissemination of accurate information on COVID-19. Indeed, to echo the words of the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, “These are not ordinary times”. We shall overcome.
The numerous calls for young people to take responsibility and avoid crowded spaces at this moment are non-negotiable. This time, it is essential to understand that we are all saving lives by simply staying home. Enduring these hardships and difficulties to save lives is taking action. You will be complementing the work of various volunteers and health professionals in all corners of the world. Show leadership in this time of crisis. Do what you can. Stay at home.
Richard Dzikunu is passionate about Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and harnessing digital technology to achieve Universal Health Coverage.
As a Youth Power Young Leader with Restless Development, he won a United Nations award in Bonn, Germany, for his work on empowering marginalized groups to be involved in the Sustainable Development Goals dialogue and influencing the Ghana Health Service Adolescent Policy and Strategy. His professional portfolio includes working as a Programs Officer for Curious Minds in Ghana and as an Advocacy Associate for the Primary Health Care Initiative with PAI in Washington DC. Richard is an Alumni of the Women Deliver Young Leaders program and currently serves as a facilitator for the Young Experts: Tech 4 Health.