The health and education infrastructure and systems of the Member States of the Union, especially Liberia and Sierra Leone, were severely devastated during the civil conflicts. It is estimated that 60-75 percent of the health and education infrastructure in these two countries were left in a state of disrepair, a large number of medical personnel lost their lives and tens of thousands sought refuge within and outside of the sub-region thus making access to medical services minimal or almost impossible, as well as prohibitive due to high costs, especially in the rural areas. Capacities to provide desired medical services in facilities that are operating leave much to be desired. Deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS/STI, Tuberculosis and Malaria which plague the sub-region require urgent attention especially along the borders since such areas are hardly focused on in national planning and budgeting. A similar situation prevails in the education sector with hundreds of thousands of school-going children out of school. Although conditions in Guinea and Cote dIvoire are not as difficult as in Liberia and Sierra Leone, costs, access and quality of services remain significant challenges.
Also, the sub-region is bilingual using French and English as official languages. However, populations in the respective countries to a large extent only speak the official language of their countries. Educational systems in the respective countries do not emphasize language skills. Communication is greatly hindered as a result affecting the free movement of people and limiting trade.
Accordingly, selected issues related to health, education (especially language training), promotion of peace and stability through culture and sports; women and children and youth in particular in border areas will be addressed under this pillar.
Health and Education
For the sub-region, addressing the health situation for residents along the borders is critical taking into consideration the massive displacement of the population during the conflicts with tens of thousands of them now residing in border areas where they sought refuge. These refugees relied primarily on the humanitarian support to address their critical health problems and that of host communities especially in the areas of HIV/AIDS/STI, TB and malaria, which threatened and continue to take a tool on the population as well as pose serious challenges to socio-economic development nationally and sub-regionally.
When the Union was founded, it initiated and supported the training of selected nationals in tertiary institutions with the primary objective of building desired capacity in the public sector of Member States.
Women and Children
Cultural norms and traditions, legal barriers/deficiencies, and gender-based violence have negatively impacted women's role in society and their full contribution to national and sub-regional development. Additionally, child abuse and trafficking are on the increase with impunity. Gender disparities with particular focus on biases against women and the abuse of children are glaring and require redress.
The unemployment rate in the sub-region lies between 60-85 percent. For a region that has experienced civil conflict for over a decade and half, this is dangerous for the sustenance of peace and security. The war attracted a generation of youth whose future is bleak. They have lost out on education and have no marketable skills. Failing to address their needs will negatively impact the fragile peace the region enjoys now. The need to take their minds away from war and make them productive citizens demands the formulation and implementation of skills development for employment and self-employment projects and programmes that can build their skills for employment and self employment.
1. To support the sub-region to meet goal six of the MDGs - to stop and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS;
2. Facilitate and enhance the speaking of both official languages of the sub-region by population in member countries; and
3. Address the problems of vulnerable populations (women, children and youths) and the involvement of youths in productive activities with an emphasis on women.
Strategy and Programmes
To contribute to the achievement of social development, the focus of this strategy will be on a review of policies, strategies and laws on health, education, women and children and youth employment of member states. These instruments will be reviewed for these sectors to support cooperation and collaboration among MRU member States for harmonization of standards in ensuring that available capacity among member states is uniform.
For specific interventions in these sectors, the emphasis is on border regions and areas covering two or more of the MRU countries. Specifically:
A pilot health project implemented in the border region on reducing the spread of HIV/AIDs will be extended, with secured funding, to other target areas.
Language training will be given attention to make communication easier between citizens in the sub-region. A thorough assessment will be undertaken to determine the nature and scope of such interventions.
On health and education, geographical coverage will include the identified growth areas and any other border regions. The target here will not be specific locations within one country to avoid duplication of national efforts to tackle health and education.
Youths will be targeted through the continuation of the implementation of an employment for youth programme that started in 2009. The focus will be on youths residing in border areas with the following: The target group that is focused constitutes;
Marginalized, poor urban and rural youth;
Youth who wish to start up a business or to become employed or improve community productivity;
Youth who already own a business and wish to expand.
The Secretariat will assess and analyze the situation of women and children in particular of gender based violence and child abuse and trafficking in border areas with a view to designing projects/programmes to address them on a sub-regional basis.
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