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O3 PLUS Programme is creating a healthier generation of students in Higher and Tertiary institutions


Group of students involved in the O3 PLUS project as Peer Educators from Chalimbana University in Zambia
Group of students involved in the O3 PLUS project as Peer Educators from Chalimbana University in Zambia

UNESCO celebrated the significant accomplishments of the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Plus (O3 PLUS) programme which aims to empower young people in six countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. The O3 PLUS Annual Review meeting was held in Lusaka, Zambia, from 26 to 27 October 2023 with the participation of a wide range of stakeholders that work together towards improved sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) outcomes for young people in higher and tertiary education institutions (HTEIs).


The O3 PLUS programme, is building on the successful O3 initiative launched in 2018 by focusing specifically on students in HTEIs. It targets more than 432,000 students across six countries in the ESA region running from 2021 to 2025.


Terence M Chakufwaya a student from Chalimbana University in Zambia declared “We are grateful for the O3 PLUS programme, we can see students' health services improving. It is important for students to receive quality and friendly services on campus. As Young people, we are calling for improved access to sexual and reproductive health services and to end gender-based violence (GBV) on campuses.”


The programme responds to the multiple SRHR challenges facing young people in the ESA region. Awareness about preventing sexual transmission of HIV remains low, with only 41.9% of males and 44.3% of females aged 15-24 able to identify effective preventive measures. Nearly 4,000 adolescent girls and women aged 15-24 in ESA become infected with HIV every week. Unintended pregnancy rates among tertiary students are unacceptably high, reaching 75% in Zambia and 63% in Zimbabwe. One in four young women aged 20-24 in sub-Saharan Africa has experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse by a partner. It is central to provide young people with knowledge and SRH services that enable them to make informed choices, ultimately avoiding poor health outcomes.


During her opening remarks, UNESCO Regional Director, Ms. Nisha stated: “The O3 PLUS programme provides practical solutions and equips young individuals with the tools they need to navigate these challenges successfully. It is central to provide young people with knowledge and services that enable them to make informed choices, ultimately avoiding poor health outcomes.” She underscored some of the main results of the programme across the region which include reaching more than 88,000 students with formal Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) module thought in HTEIs, reviewing 24 policies related to gender-based violence (GBV) and students' health and well-being, establishing 15 gender desks and initiating the renovation of 15 campus clinics.


Dr Heather Munachonga, Zambia National Commission for UNESCO, emphasized: “The O3 PLUS Programme aims to enhance the capabilities of the higher and tertiary education sector in delivering quality and effective Life Skills and Health Education (LSHE). This is achieved through the training of lecturers, tutors, and peer educators, along with mentoring programmes during induction and annual refresher courses. Additionally, the project focuses on empowering academic staff to incorporate LSHE content, including topics related to GBV, HIV prevention, and pregnancy prevention, into existing curricula. It also supports the creation of new curricula that address these important issues.” Participants were pleased with the significant progress made by the project, as they also had the chance to visit four different HTEIs to evaluate the project's implementation and exchange with students and staff.


Liliane Tarnutzer, Deputy Head of Cooperation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, declared: “While O3 PLUS focuses its intervention on tertiary institutions, it is hoped that the project’s impact will go much beyond its direct stakeholders, by encouraging and empowering students to become agents of change within their families, communities and places of work, to increase the knowledge and uptake of SRHR services, prevent HIV, sexual and gender-based violence and reduce unintended pregnancies”. She re-iterated the commitment of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to support tertiary institutions to become centers of excellence for HIV and GBV prevention and SRHR services.


The O3 PLUS programme and its partners – the governments of Switzerland, France, Norway, and Sweden - are committed to creating a healthier generation of students in HTEIs across the East and Southern Africa Region.


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