COVID-19 has clear repercussions on our health, however, it also has far-reaching implications on the socio-economic futures of young people in Africa. As a continent, we are one of the youngest in the world, with 70% of people under the age of 30. There is no doubt that as a collective, young people are increasingly driven and passionate – and together, you hold the power to change the way the continent approaches public health challenges.
As a continent, we have unfortunately experienced many epidemics, but at the Confederation of African Football (CAF), we have long recognized that sport is a powerful tool for development and health prevention and have used our influence to reach millions.
The Africa United Against Ebola campaign, for example, reached more than 300 million people during the Ebola pandemic and raised awareness of key prevention methods. Another campaign that we took part in, called United Against Malaria, spoke out against this devastating disease that continues to claim around 400,000 lives a year, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa.
We know that football touches the lives of so many in our continent and that athletes are role models to the community. Therefore, it is a true honor to help spread such vital messages.
Communication and making the right information easily available are very effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and young people have access to these powerful tools through social media. Not only can you share life-saving information about the pandemic to others, but they can also use their online platforms to ensure public awareness campaigns are undertaken. Today, almost everyone has a mobile phone – with approximately 80% of us now having access to one. Although internet access only stands at 36%, this grew by almost 9% in the last year with many more of us getting online.
At CAF, we are fortunate to say that Africa is a continent of football lovers. Through this mutual love of the game, we hope to use our position to tackle COVID-19 through social media. We recently supported the World Health Organization’s ‘Safe Hands challenge’, which raises awareness of good hand hygiene. Meanwhile, in partnership with Speak Up Africa, we are supporting the pan-African ‘Stay Safe Africa’ campaign, which aims to stop the spread of COVID-19 across our continent.
We recently launched an online challenge called #19KickUpsAgainstCovid19. This campaign calls on African football legends and featured footballers like Ahmed Hassan, Perpetua Nkwocha and Khalilou Fadiga to name a few. Each footballer performed the kick up challenge and posted it online, to spread awareness to their many followers. After all, while COVID-19 seeks to tear us apart, football brings us all together.
At CAF, we believe that you – our continents young people – are powerful agents of change, and across the continent, we are witnessing programs empowering and providing crucial platforms for your ideas and voices. The African Union has even created a Specialised Technical Committee on youth, culture and sports, which recognizes the interconnected nature of each of these elements.
Earlier this year, UNESCO also held its own ‘Sports Challenge against COVID-19 in Africa’, which called for youth to make videos displaying skills and creativity when taking part in a sporting activity, as a contribution to strengthen their health and fight against COVID-19. There is one common theme, by taking part in sport, you can help improve Africa.
COVID-19 has posed many challenges for our young people – with schools closing, jobs at risk and incomes jeopardized. Despite this, we are resilient, and young people are the most resilient of all. I am a firm believer that the young recognize the future needs of Africa better than most, and if we do not listen then we will never progress.
That is why I urge you all to play your part and be at the heart of our recovery against COVID-19. Not only is COVID-19 a threat to us now, but it also disrupts existing malaria, immunization and neglected tropical diseases programs – and we must work hard to protect the progress made in these fights. Through sport, young people are already learning skills of teamwork, communication and determination. These skills can and should be transferred to driving public health changes.
Young people are already at the heart of our continent and without your commitment to fight and rally against COVID-19, we will be unable to move forward. Young people should be central to reforming service delivery architecture including improving health infrastructures and dealing with other pandemics. Once we empower young people, we will empower Africa.
By Ahmad Ahmad, President of the Confederation of African Football