In Zambia, research indicates that young people remain at risk of early sexual debut and the associated risks of unplanned pregnancy, sexual abuse, early marriages, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is implementing the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Plus (O3 PLUS) project in Eleven (11) Higher and Tertiary Learning Institutions (HTEIs) in Zambia targeting over 60,000 young people. The aim of the project is to ensure that young people realize positive health, education, and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy, and gender-based violence.
Anchoring on broad use of electronic devices and social media by young people, UNESCO in partnership with the HTEIs designed and developed a mobile application known as “OwnU” (denoting that young people should own their decisions with full knowledge in sexual and reproductive health). Subsequently, UNESCO with the HTEIs under the O3 Plus project launched the OwnU mobile application on 31st March 2023 at the University of Zambia. In attendance were Government representatives from Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Health, HTEIs management and staff, and students from 11 institutions, the media, and civil society organizations.
The Ministry of Education representative Mr. Amos Mumba – Director for University Education speaking on behalf of the Permanent Secretary thanked UNESCO and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) for supporting the Ministry of Education and selected universities and colleges to implement the project Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3 PLUS) which seeks to ensure that young people in the country realize positive health, education, and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy, and gender-based violence.
He further mentioned that government has recognized the gap in providing health education, life skills and sexual reproductive health services for students in higher and tertiary learning institutions and that contemporary interventions that appeal to young people must be employed to ensure all young people easily access health education and services. He also added that the government is embracing technology and digital transformation in all sectors including the Ministry of Education. The country has about 5.48 million internet users in Zambia. Therefore, we will be leveraging the fast-changing access to internet and digital transformation to provide health education.
And speaking on behalf of UNESCO, Team Leader Mrs Alice Saili stated that UNESCO is excited to jointly work with the Ministry of Education to launch of the OWNU Mobile application, a powerful digital platform aimed at providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information and services to young people within campus environments. She pointed out that that with the launch of this innovative app, young people will now have a powerful tool at their fingertips to access accurate and reliable information on HIV, STIs, pregnancy prevention, and other related topics.
Mrs Saili further mentioned that the OwnU Mobile app is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of young people, providing a safe and confidential space where they can learn, share information, and connect with SRHR service providers. She also implored the students that whether they are looking for information on how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, or they need to access contraception or other reproductive health services, OwnU Mobile app is the perfect resource for them. With this app, the young people in universities and colleges will be getting real-time services such as counselling and help during emergencies.
Lastly, the Director Mr Mumba, officially launched the OwnU application and over 400 young people who were in attendance downloaded the application from the google play store. The application boasts of real-time localized services such as counseling and panic button for emergencies, access to correct and accurate information on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health. The OwnU mobile application further offers young people a platform to seek medical help, interact and share experiences with peers in the comfort of their location using their mobile phones.