‘Innovation key to stem youth HIV infections’

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Limpho Sello

A CALL has been made for young people to be innovative to avoid the pitfalls that lead to HIV/AIDS infection and unwanted pregnancies among other challenges.

This was said yesterday by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Lesotho, Therese Zeba, during the launch of an innovation fund meant to assist young people at Maseru Mall.

She said the US$20 000 (about M298 783) fund was meant to promote a culture of innovation so the youths become self-sufficient. UNFPA volunteers, Ms Zeba said, would soon encourage young people in various districts to come up with projects as a way of fostering the improvement of sexual reproductive health among women and youths.

The youths with the best proposals would receive the funding support and get mentorship at the Vodacom Foundation’s business incubation hub Vodacom Innovation Park (VIP).

Ms Zeba said they came up with the initiative in light of the high rate of mortalities among women from complications of pregnancy and childbirth as well as extreme poverty.  She said young people were at the highest risk of HIV infection as well as unintended pregnancies.

“We decided to allocate funding towards fighting maternal deaths and, at the same time, empower young women and youths,” Ms Zeba said.

“With this small fund, youths are expected to come up with small-scale projects that are very innovative. We can’t succeed without being innovative and we can’t tackle the challenges we face without innovation.”

In his remarks, Vodacom Lesotho Cooperate Affairs Manager, Tšepo Ntoapane, said VIP was borne out of a realisation of the challenge of unemployment in the country whereby up to 7 000 graduates from institutions of higher learning were still jobless.

“Only a few of the graduates are absorbed into the job market unlike in the past where people knew they had secured employment by graduating,” said Mr Ntoapane.

“However, after they complete their studies nowadays there is no guarantee that they will even secure a position as a civil servant.”

He said VIP was meant to give budding entrepreneurs a better chance at thriving and surviving in a tough economic environment.

“We have been raised to think that we need to get employed in order to survive, but that mentality has to change. That is why the Vodacom Foundation established VIP to provide a dynamic and supportive incubation environment to accelerate the growth of innovative firms,” Mr Ntoapane said.

“We need young people to start thinking outside the box. According to UNFPA, young people are not only vulnerable economically, but also in terms of their health if they don’t apply themselves.”

On his part, Ministry of Gender, Youth and Sport Acting Principal Secretary Hlompho Mpeta echoed the sentiments, saying young people needed to occupy themselves with productive activities to avoid infection and unplanned pregnancies.

“As you are aware, young people in our country bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and unwanted pregnancies,” he said.

“It is only logical, therefore, that they come up with innovative ways of averting these challenges.”

Mr Mpeta added: “I hope that through this fund, innovative talents of young people around our country will be ignited and that it will help to nurture their initiative, curiosity, imagination, creativity and collaborative skills as well as their analytical abilities so that they can come up with implementable, viable and innovative ideas that can help to take our country forward.”

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