Effects of COVID-19 in young people’s lives #9 / Alistar Mangwanya

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Stay at home! Wash your hands! Stop the spread. The covid-19 pandemic has brought about enormous change in everybody’s life whether young, old or middle-aged. My focus for this essay is on the impact that it is having on the young, in particular the youth.

As I am writing this essay it has been over a month since the nation-wide lockdown in Zimbabwe began in Zimbabwe on the 30th of March 2020. With schools, universities and some workplaces shut we can assume a lot of young people are stuck at home. The effects of this lockdown on Zimbabwean youth has been widely under reported.

Let us begin with a focus on mental health. Glenn Close said “what mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation”. Since the lockdown mental health has fallen of the priority list in Zimbabwe as matters such as food insecurity and the covid-19 pandemic have taken precedence. Mental illness is prevalent in Zimbabwe. Depression is real! Anxiety disorders are real! Health minister Obadiah Moyo last year said at least one million in Zimbabwe suffer from mental and neurological disorders.

Due to the pandemic many of our young people may feel trapped if they have to stay indoors all day. Some households are abusive. All forms of abuse are still prevalent in Zimbabwe that is, physical, sexual and verbal. At least when schools are open there is a chance to feel ‘feel’ or at least have a friend to counsel. Another worry is that about 40% of alcohol addicts have a co-existing mental health issue. With limited access to addictive substances this could be a ticking time bomb. The other concern is some might be worried if they will be able to make a living post lockdown as companies retrench and the informal market is shrinked.

Mental health issues in my opinion as an aspiring activist for the cause, will be a source for the biggest ‘hidden victims of covid-19’ if left unchecked. Even before the pandemic mental health had been inaccessible to all. It is considered a privilege to seek such services, but even for those already getting help this will be a tough period for them.

Another key area affecting young people is the access to education. The government is implementing online education but, the question is how many? Zimbabwe has a huge digital divide. According to the World Bank 34% of the Zimbabwean population that is, 5.7 million people are living in poverty. It is clear that the online education just won’t work for all.

I am fortunate enough to have access to a laptop and the internet to follow up on lectures online. However, my university Catholic University of Zimbabwe just like many other universities in Zimbabwe are not providing electronic gadgets and data for those who are not able to afford. I am afraid that a lot of students will be left behind if online learning substitutes contact learning.

Going back to health issues, Teenagers are arguably the most sexually active demography. Due to the stringent measures against movement particularly in urban areas, young people will find it difficult to access condoms and other safe sex medication. As a result more youth will be engaging in risky sexual encounters such as unprotected sex. At the other side of this lockdown analysts predict more than usual unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases. It is a major risk to the future of many Zimbabwean youth.

I want to bring to attention a more deadly disease that has made headlines recently that affects our youngest population. There has been an outbreak of Malaria during the covid-19 lockdown. It was disturbing to read an article which said in the week ending 18 April 2020 there were 18 690 malaria cases reported in Zimbabwe. It is well known that Malaria has a high mortality rate among our youngest population. The World Health Organisation (WHO) that children under 5 years old accounted for 67% of deaths caused by malaria in 2018. The lockdown may act as an enabler for the spread of the disease.

As a principle to myself, in every negative situation there must be a bright side. My thoughts are for many young people this an opportunity to bond with our co-habitants which are our parents, siblings, grandparents or whatever the case may be. Pre-lockdown everyone in the house was so busy with their own part of life be it school or work. This is the time to revive relationships and appreciate loved ones.

With all these effects discussed, I am a man of solutions. Whenever you have some spare time take some of that time to do a few exercises. Jog (if allowed to) a few kilometres each morning, push-ups, sit-ups to refresh your mind. I got this advice from a doctor and it works, trust me! You will increase your mental capacity and have a good night’s sleep. It is a good hobby to carry for the rest of your life.

Also whenever you can help your fellow youth in need please do. It may be through counselling or just buying mobile data for them to be able to access online learning material, although I think the government should be providing that. Regardless you are your brother’s keeper.

To close of, the effects of covid-19 are felt across all age groups. However this is a challenge for the young people of Zimbabwe to be the pioneers of the change they want to see. We want see an equal society and an efficient health system for both physical and mental illnesses. Let us stand together!   

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