International Day of the Girl Child: Helping Girls Pursue Their Dreams

By Deborah Birx on October 10, 2017 On the International Day of the Girl Child – and every day – the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) celebrates the extraordinary power and potential of girls around the world, and we reaffirm our commitment to helping them pursue their dreams.

Empowering, supporting, and protecting girls is critical to controlling and ultimately ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Unless we deliver for girls, we will not succeed. This means understanding the unique challenges faced by girls and developing creative solutions to address them.

Over the past three and a half years, PEPFAR has taken these challenges head-on. In 2014, we partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences, and ViiV Healthcare to launch DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, Safe). Driven by data, we have rolled out an unprecedented and comprehensive package of interventions in the highest-burden areas of 10 African countries.

We have seen girls step up as leaders in their communities to speak openly about their risks for HIV and embrace programs to reduce them. We have seen parents gain the skills to talk honestly with their daughters (and sons) about HIV and other health issues affecting their lives. We have witnessed community and faith leaders dedicating themselves to changing harmful gender norms that contribute to the vulnerability of girls and young women.

According to results from PEPFAR’s Population-based HIV Impact Assessments (PHIAs) in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, we are approaching epidemic control among older adults in these countries. Yet the PHIAs also reveal key gaps for young women and men under age 35 who are significantly less likely to be tested, on treatment, and/or virally suppressed than those over age 35. And girls remain up to 14 times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys of their same age. With the rising population of adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa and a persistent cycle of HIV transmission between adolescent girls and young women and men 8-10 years older, we still have much work to do.

This year, for the first time, we integrated our DREAMS programs (which were previously funded centrally) into our annual Country Operational Plans, making DREAMS a core component of PEPFAR programs in the 10 original DREAMS countries. The DREAMS Innovation Challenge is also fully operational, supporting new ideas and approaches, many at the community level, to reach and support adolescent girls and young women. We also expanded DREAMS-like programming into Botswana, Cote D’Ivoire, Haiti, Namibia, and Rwanda.  

Our private sector partners remain central to the success of DREAMS, bringing their unique capacities and capabilities to the table. For example, Girl Effect conducted extensive research to understand the context of relationships between boys and girls in Malawi and what kind of messaging would resonate most with adolescents. It found that relationships between boys and girls are highly sexualized in Malawi, and society often discourages boys and girls from being platonic friends, which puts girls at greater risk. Girl Effect created a youth brand called “Zathu” (meaning “ours”) that aims to close the gender gap through the power of music and storytelling, tackling challenging topics such as relationships, confidence, and friendships between girls and boys.

Shirika la AGPAHI kwa msaada wa watu wa Marekani kwa Kushirikiana na Halmashauri ya wilaya za Chato na Bukombe Mkoani Geita limeendesha zoezi la upimaji wa Virusi Vya UKIMWI(VVU) kwa hiyari na uchunguzi wa awali wa saratani ya mlango wa kizazi kwa wanawake wenye umri kuanzia miaka 30 na kuendelea.

Zoezi hilo la upimaji lilifanyika wilayani Chato katika Hospitali ya wilaya ya Chato, Kituo cha afya cha Bwanga, Zahanati ya buseresere na Nyabugera na Wilayani Bukombe katika Hospitali ya wilaya ya Bukombe, kituo cha afya cha uyovu na zahanati ya Bukombe.

Wanajamii wa Chato wakisikiliza kwa makini maelezo kwa afisa muuguzi  kuhusu shughuli ya upimaji katika hospitali ya wilaya ya chato

Kwa mujibu wa mratibu huduma unganishi kwa jamii mkoa wa Geita AGPAHI- Richard Kambaragwe amesema Jumla ya watu 1,282 wamejitokeza kupima HIV na UKIMWI na kati ya hao wa kike na wa kiume 36 wamebainika kuwa na maambukizi huku, wanawake wapatao 532 waliojitokeza kupima saratani ya mlango wa kizazi na wapatao 30 wamebainika kuwa na tatizo hilo.

Kambaragwe amesema Shirika hilo linaendesha huduma za upimaji kwa wananchi bila malipo hivyo Jamii imetakiwa kujenga utamaduni wa kupima Afya zao ili kujitambua mapema endapo kama watakuwa na maambukizi ya VVU na UKIMWI ama dalili za awali za saratani ya Mlango wa shingo ya Kizazi ambalo ni tatizo kubwa linalopelekea vifo vya watu wengi nchini na Duniani Kote.

After participating into the Children Psychosocial Forum in Arusha, three adolescents from AGPAHI supported clubs i.e. Justine Sylvester (Kambarage HC), Rachel Njau(Shinyanga RRH) and Frank Christopher (Nassa HC) joined Jake Glaser for site visits in Kilimanjaro region. The group visited Ariel clubs at Kibosho Hospital and KCMC Hospital. The trip was organized by our sister organization Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF).

Upon arriving at Kibosho Hospital, our adolescents met more than 20 children and adolescents who belong to the Ariel club. They introduced themselves, mingled and blended well with their fellow peers who are in the same age group and same health status. The most interesting part was to hear about Jake Glaser’s story – the fact that he has the same health status as Ariel club children and carries on with his life like everyone else, they were inspired! Jake admitted that at times he faced some challenges when growing up but he focused on doing things he loves and looking at life on a brighter side. He never allowed the challenges to pull him down.

Jake dancing with Ariel club children at Kibosho Hospital Care and Treatment Centre(CTC) after receiving a Maasai blanket (a present from the facility).

Jake Glaser, first right on the high table listening to a song that was prepared by children at Kibosho Hospital. Next to him is Jeroen van’t Pad Bosch, EGPAF’s Tanzania Country Director.

 Later on, the group visited the Child Centered Family Care Clinic (CCFCC) that provides care and treatment services to children and families living with HIV/AIDS at KCMC Hospital. The uniqueness of this CTC is the fact that it can serve children and families under one roof. This model CTC ensures that clients receive services such as primary and specialty medical, care and treatment, prevention of mother to child transmission, social services and home based care. All these services are provided under one roof in the same facility.

Adolescents at CCFCC were excited to meet with Jake Glaser. They are talented, confident with high sense of self-awareness. They performed music and drama portraying a message that it is possible to achieve your dream/s if you believe in yourself. Furthermore, testimony was given by one of the club member who is currently in medical school with an ambition to become a medical doctor – all through his life he has been working hard and believing in himself. So he is looking forward to serving other people in the community upon completion of his degree. Jake urged children and adolescents at the club to have fun, enjoy and live life to the fullest. He went on to say, “life is not only about taking medication but also enjoy and embrace each day as a gift”.

Justine Sylvester, from Kambarage Health Centre (HC) was excited to meet fellow adolescents and was inspired by their testimonies and performance. He said “from this trip I have learnt that I should never lose hope in life…even though I am HIV positive I still have a right to live and do all the things like other people. I will stay focused and pursue my dreams”.

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