#GenderEqualityIs reducing HIV infections in girls

By Maria Holsopple
February 1, 2018

#GenderEqualityIs holistically reducing HIV infections for adolescent girls. HIV infections dramatically affect girls and young women at a higher rate than boys in sub-Saharan Africa. Combating this requires addressing adjacent issues like gender-based violence, child marriage and girls’ education.

Plan International USA, in partnership with the Wilson Center’s Maternal Health Initiative, hosted a panel on January 31 at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C. to discuss successful ways we are tackling these issues. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) innovative Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe women (DREAMS) program was at the center of this conversation.

“When I get to do focus groups with the young women, they tell me that for the first time someone is not only listening, but hearing them,” Ambassador Deborah Birx said, who leads PEPFAR and provided the keynote address. “There is no health care delivery system for non-pregnant girls. Creating a health care system where young people interact in a proactive and positive way is really where we are going.”

Plan is implementing DREAMS in Malawi as a partner in the One Community program, which is addressing many of the core reasons why girls and young women have higher HIV infection rates. Project activities include establishing Go! Girls Clubs to engage girls ages 10-24, who are not enrolled in school, to develop risk reduction knowledge, skill building and access to youth-friendly services. More than 42,000 girls are currently enrolled in Go! Girls Clubs.

Glory Mkandawire, Chief of Party of the One Community program and panel member, relayed conversations she has had with Go! Girls Club participants on the effects of the program.

“When I went through my DREAMS session, it motivated me to go back to school,” one participant said.

Others are motivated by the success they see from their peers in being tested for HIV, receiving job training and being linked to other services such as family planning, according to Glory.

Nadyah, a Plan Youth Advisory Board Member and panel member, spoke about a consultation she recently had with youth women in Kenya who are participating in DREAMS programming. She noted that “the lack of opportunities, positive opportunities, to do things with their free time … can lead to drugs and alcohol and unsafe relationships.” However, the youth she talked to are overcoming the challenges they face through DREAMS support groups that help them claim their voices, rights and dignity.

“It is clear that DREAMS is working because it’s a comprehensive gender program and because it’s listening to the young women themselves,” said panel moderator Justin Fugle, who is Senior Advisor for Policy and Program Outreach at Plan.

In closing out the event, Ambassador Birx commented on the potential of girls and young women.

“We believe that if we went to the moon because of women coding, we can do anything,” she said.