The Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) has spent over US$1.6 million since 2016 in promoting access to tertiary education and provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention skills and services to vulnerable adolescents in the country.

ZANIS reports that CHAZ Board Chairperson Justin Matepa says 3, 150 vulnerable girls and boys have benefited from the Adolescent Girls Accessing Prevention and Education (AGAPE) project being implemented in six districts in Eastern, Luapula and Muchinga provinces.

Father Matepa was speaking when he opened a forum on the AGAPE project in Lusaka yesterday which has drawn participation from District Education Board Secretaries, teachers, health personnel, traditional leaders and female pupils.

He said the project which originally started supporting vulnerable girls in 2016 with 1, 749 beneficiaries, has extended support to boys under the 2018-2020 grant.

Fr. Matepa stressed that a comprehensive HIV/AIDS policy and programme is essential to halt the rising cases of infections among adolescents in the country.

He said concerted efforts are needed to address socio-economic factors that are resulting in adolescents especially girls to engage in unprotected sex and getting pregnant thereby dropping out of school.

The AGAPE project is currently being implemented in Chienge, Isoka, Mafinga, Chasefu, Lumezi and Lundazi districts, to empower disadvantaged adolescent girls in extremely poor households.

And Ministry of General Education Assistant Direct for Standards Prisca Simukonda, said government is committed to strengthening the implementation and delivery of comprehensive sexuality education in schools across the country.

Mrs Simukonda said the revised curriculum is intended to provide skills, values and information to young people in the country in order for them to make informed decisions.

She said educating girls gives them an opportunity to lead healthier lives and gives them a chance to improve their livelihoods and welfare.

Mrs Simukonda commended CHAZ for complimenting government in providing access to education and reproductive health services to vulnerable children across the country.

And National AIDS Council Representative Helen Mubanga said the AGAPE project is a great opportunity for Zambia to reduce the rising numbers of new HIV/AIDS infections among adolescents, which currently stands at 43,000 annually.

Mrs Mubanga said AIDS is a huge challenge for the country and there is need to strengthen existing programmes to support girls and end child marriages and prevent HIV/AIDS infections.

And CHAZ Executive Director Karen Sichinga said her organization was compelled to start the AGAPE project in response to the Ministry of Education report in 2016 that stated that over 16, 000 girls dropped out of school due to early pregnancies and marriages.

CHAZ has since earmarked to expand the AGAPE project to Northern, Western and Southern provinces.

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