How the UN’s new strategy could help development goals in the Eastern Cape

Research has found when young people felt safe at school and lived in homes with access to cash transfers and parenting support that they were less likely to report experiencing abuse. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

Research has found when young people felt safe at school and lived in homes with access to cash transfers and parenting support that they were less likely to report experiencing abuse. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

A group of the most vulnerable youngsters in the Eastern Cape has shown that a plan by the United Nations (UN) to help reach its sustainable development goals (SDGs) in some of the most vulnerable communities might have a chance of being successful.

In 2015, countries committed to the latest round of UN targets called the sustainable development goals in an effort to end, for example, poverty, hunger and inequality.

To help meet these targets, the UN says programmes such as school feeding programmes and ensuring schools are safe and that education is free can act like “accelerators” or areas where improvements can help countries reach multiple SDGs faster.

A new study by the universities including those of Cape Town, Witswatersrand and Oxford in the United Kingdom may have proven the UN right. The study followed a group of about 1 000 Eastern Cape HIV-positive adolescents and teens over the course of 18 months between 2014 and 2014, interviewing them and reviewing their medical records. Research found that the development accelerators not only improved the health and living conditions of the youngsters, but worked even more effectively when combined, according to research published in The Lancet medical journal.

“The study goes further to find that simple combinations of accelerators — such as parenting support, cash transfers and safe schools — result in an even greater impact,” UCT said in a statement Thursday.

Researchers evaluated how well these kinds of accelerators worked for 11 out of the 17 sustainable goals, including protecting people from emotional or physical abuse. They found that when young people felt safe at school and lived in homes with access to cash transfers and parenting support that they were less likely to report experiencing abuse. And being able to access support groups also meant that the youngsters, who were living with HIV, were more likely to stay on HIV treatment and report better mental and sexual health.

“By providing social welfare grants, safe schools and supportive parenting for these highest-risk teens, we can make substantial positive impacts across health, education, gender equality and violence prevention,”said Professor Lucie Cluver, a principal investigator at Oxford University and honorary professor at UCT’s department of psychiatry and mental health, who led the study. “Even for one of Africa’s most vulnerable groups — adolescents living with HIV and Aids — the right combinations of programmes can help.”

The new research suggests that accelerators could not only work to help reach international targets sooner but adds that they have also been shown to be cost effective.

“This new evidence is a step forward in reaching the sustainable development goals,” Culver said.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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