A Year For You(th) – Happy New Year

Closing a year is a principal time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. This year was a little different for us. All of us. It brought many challenges, uncertainties, and grievances as well as collections of trials, much growth, and a great deal of motivation. 2020 is a year to remember in many ways, as it has opened our eyes to existing systemic complications and new discoveries.

Though it seemed the world stopped turning and time froze while we were all stuck in our homes waiting and hoping for an end to the virus, essential workers continued on working viciously to save the lives of every person of every gender and every race, hopeful that normality would come sooner than 2021. Scientists, researchers, healthcare workers, and the like have tirelessly prepared for the vaccine roll out to end this unforgiving virus.  In Nigeria, unemployment, protests, and other effects from COVID-19 tested individuals creating mental and physical burdens, but Nigerians carried on, hopeful for the future. For the youth. 

We, 4 Youth By Youth (4YBY), also continued progress amidst the pandemic. While COVID-19 spread throughout different parts of the world at different rates and times, we stretched to achieve as much as possible before the hurdles of in-country restrictions and lockdowns began. Our international travel halted, and in-person tasks became more difficult. We were unable to host in-person activities for World AIDS Day, revoking opportunities for face-to-face engagement with youth. But in the face of COVID-19 and thanks to modern technology, we persevered through 2020 with challenges and victories alike. We learned to change our strategies while staying true to our core value of youth participation and youth driven innovation

Highlights of our year:

4 Youth By Youth hosted its second Crowdsourcing Designathon from March 20th-22nd in which participants focused on developing new HIV self-testing (HIVST) resources and creating connections to youth-friendly services by answering one of the three prompts:

  1. How might we deliver HIVST services and other youth-friendly health programs to young people in ways that are low-cost, acceptable, appealing, and confidential? 
  2. How might we link young people to HIV self-testing and other youth-friendly health services that are low-cost, acceptable, appealing, and confidential? 
  3. How might we make youth-friendly health services a place that young people would want to go for STI testing?

Out of 289 team application entries, 13 teams competed in the designathon and gave a 5-minute pitch presentation to a panel of judges. 3 finalist teams were chosen by the judges, and components of their interventions on strategies to promote linkage to preventive services will be included in the randomized controlled evaluation (RCT) evaluation. 

4 Youth By Youth submitted steps toward implementation of the UH3 phase research. We commenced and engaged with our data and safety monitory board (DSMB); mapped out study sites for our randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of a combined youth-designed HIV self-testing service delivery intervention; created an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code for HIV self-testing photo verification, which was lead by a 4YBY youth participant, Enola Ajani; and began recruitment of youth research assistants to lead intervention implementation.

4 Youth By Youth executed continual engagement with local and international stakeholders through press releases, the 4YBY website, social media, and face-to-face (while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines) and remote meetings throughout the year. Our stakeholders played a key role in the development and implementation of research phases and activities and will aid in the transition towards the UH3 phase (the randomized controlled trial of the interventions). 

4 Youth By Youth publicized information regarding I-TEST activities through our social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; digital channels; and social media influencers in Nigeria. Our investigators and youth teams presented findings at local and international conferences and seminars. Additionally, these findings were extended through our social media outlets, newsprints, local TV stations, and 4YBY website. 

4 Youth By Youth held our first virtual World AIDS Day contest on December 1st and anointed 3 winners from the 156 competitive submissions we received. 

1st place – Ponmile Ogunjemite

2nd place – Babatunde Bale

3rd place – Daniel Nwachukwu

Ponmile coined the idea of “Bambam,” an interactive health application accessible for Nigerian youth to review and monitor their health and/or HIV status. Bambam is an interactive app in which users can gain points to earn freebies such as medical consults and tests, vouchers, and gifts. To keep youth engaged, Ponmile suggested a rating system that encourages competition among youth. 

Babatunde formulated another application available to Nigerian youth called the “Sabi app.” This app includes easily accessible features such as a HIV self-testing (HIVST) component and a virtual counseling program that can be used remotely throughout urban and rural communities. Through partnerships with suppliers and delivery companies, the application allows users to ship HIVST kits to their specified locations. Additionally, the app provides users with a “How-To” HIVST kit video tutorial. The private counseling system allows users to schedule appointments  with licensed medical physicians via a QR code connected to their individualized kit. Confidentially, Nigerian youth will not only be able to test themselves but also receive advice pertaining to their status. 

Daniel’s plan consisted of using and expanding existing resources. Religious leaders can help aid in the prevention process by encouraging Nigerians to participate in frequent medical check-ups, use contraceptives, or abstain from sexual encounters. Elevation of social media platforms should be used as HIVST information sources for users providing them with helpful tools and videos on how, when, and where to use kit. Weekly articles should circulate the internet with facts about HIV and the self testing kits, and medical professionals can speak about HIV over television and radio stations. Virtual meetings and group discussions could be held for those willing to speak up and share their experiences or ask questions, provided that confidentiality rules would be set beforehand. Old-school propagation such as HIVST information via billboards, flyers, and posters would be displayed around communities. Additionally, collaborations with health clinics and hospitals would provide availability of free resources such as condoms and contraceptives after completion of testing. 

The chosen three had unique proposals and the highest scores based on our judging criteria of desirability, feasibility, and impact. The formulated ideas were appealing and influential to Nigerian youth while also meeting the needs according to low-cost, accessibility, and confidentiality. These ideas required low resources and could easily be implemented among and accessed by youth. 

Our 2020 success would not be accomplished without our researchers, investigators, youth ambassadors, youth teams,  Nigerian youth themselves. We admire and give thanks to all who have contributed to 4 Youth By Youth. 

We leave 2020 knowing far more than when we entered. Every failure was complimented with success. The hardships we endured created holes in our hearts, but our perspectives, ideas, and experiences we adopted and faced formed a root in our souls waiting for a new beginning. We will always remember this year as humble ground to learn from, grow from, and create prosperity from. We enter 2021 with an open mind, hopeful for more fortune in 4 Youth By Youth, in Nigeria, and worldwide.

New Year’s Resolutions from us to you:

“As a Nigerian youth, my advice to myself and other youth for the new year is to be comfortable with taking risks and being open minded. I believe we acquire new knowledge and can make positive contributions in our communities by being open minded and by taking the risk or chance to implement the changes we want to see. With this, I wish everyone a safe and productive 2021 where we are not scared to accomplish our goals and lead the changes we want. Of course, this should involve making time to explore new hobbies and making time to form memories with loved ones. Experiencing a pandemic has taught me the importance of making time for our loved ones; memories formed are forever and cannot be taken from us.” – Ucheoma Nwaozuru, Postdoctoral Researcher

“The Nigerian youth should focus on not just getting educated but more on developing entrepreneurial skills by the acquisition of new skills and the development of already learned skills. This will empower more youth and reduce dependency on the government and the Nigerian Economy. Youth should develop their potential by availing themselves to programs, mentorship by more experienced and respected members of society to equip their minds for critical awareness and be guided to paths that will help them play more active roles in running the Nigerian nation. Youth should create their groups and lead their groups; they should stop older members of society from taking control of their groups. It is only when they assume this leadership role that they are able to lead other young people and play active roles in policies that affect them. The Nigeria youth should stop sitting on the fence. They should take decisive action as to how they will like their future to look like and what changes to make in Nigeria.” – Titi Gbaja-biamila, Project Coordinator 

“Avoid procrastination. Watch edifying movies. Help others! Avoid unnecessary expenses. Swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. Listen to parents’ advice! Follow peace with all men! Go for a walk. Don’t be afraid of challenges!” – Lateef Akeem, Youth Ambassador 

“I hope that the Nigerian youth can continue to rise up and ask important questions, bring accountability to all areas of life, and continue to iteratively improve health services as demonstrated by 4YBY.” – Joseph Tucker, Principal Investigator

“In a lot of ways, 2020 has taught us how short life can be and how to treasure the people and activities we love…I’d like the Nigerian youth to focus on rebirth in 2021, to live intentionally and chase their dreams like their lives depended on it.” – Kelechi Chima, Youth Team Member (Team Genra)

“For the new year, may we keep you, the Nigerian youth, in mind. May we continue to learn from you, understand you, and even show more gratitude towards you. Nigerian youth all have a story to tell, and I pray that your stories will be heard in the new year and beyond. Then the religious side of me adds, that in the new year for anyone reading this, may God’s face shine on you and be gracious to you. May you be like the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Amen.” – Juliet Iwelunmor, Principal Investigator

“Remember your voice matters. Nigerian youth have been so courageous in speaking up and taking action against injustices and creating innovative solutions for their health and well-being in 2020. In the year 2021, my hope is that Nigerian youth remember the present moments and rely on loved ones for support. There may be road blocks and things unplanned, but remembering strength and intention can help forge a new path towards a brighter tomorrow. Further, in 2021, I hope Nigerian youth practice self care, continue to take agency over their health and well-being, and know that no dream is too big”. – Stacey Mason, Research Assistant

“In 2021, we should begin/continue to embrace the newness in every moment, by continually choosing to take every minute of each day to unravel a better version of ourselves, our work, and our gifts to humanity. We must refuse the urge to wallow in things/occurrences that didn’t work yesterday and give ourselves ‘the opportunity of new in every breath’. I do not have to be the wrong person I was or the decision I made one minute ago; I choose to write a better version in this minute and walk in this improved me.” – Bowofoluwa Abimbola, Youth Team Member (Team B-STAR)

“I wish to ‘soro soke,’ a slang term that means ‘increase the volume.’ I would love to see a 2021 whereby the Nigeran youth can utilize platforms to speak up–speaking up in their duties and roles, using resources to hit milestones in their diverse fields. An outspoken society can help address societal issues; even the government and youth in unity have the power to achieve this.” – Ezienyi Nwanunu, Youth Ambassador

“I sincerely hope the youth shift focus from making money to being valued and having values passed down or around. Money is good, but the recent charge towards ‘blowing’ is really dangerous… Give value, find out how your skills can help people live better. That way you leave a good legacy and can be happy too.” – Jennifer Oriaku, Youth Team Member (Team Smart)

“My resolution to the youth is to assist in any positive way to actualize their dreams, especially in the health sector.” – Obinna Ugwu, Youth Facilitator 

“My hope is that we, the Nigerian youth, continue to dream brightly, persevere and soar boldly no matter what life throws at us.” – Chisom Obiezu-Umeh, Project Coordinator

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