Project to cut new HIV cases in girls, women launched

Rapid HIV test at a clinic
Copyright: Giacomo Pirozzi/Panos

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  • Most new HIV cases in African adolescents occur in girls and young women
  • A new project is targeting girls and young women in ten African nations
  • The initiative needs to work closely with existing structures, says an expert

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[NAIROBI] An initiative that aims to reduce HIV/AIDS infections in adolescent girls and young women in ten Sub-Sharan African countries has been launched in Kenya.
The two-year US$210 million project known as Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women (DREAMS) was launched in Kenya last month (20 November).
The new project seeks to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) age ten to 24 years, in ten countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Katherine Perry, Kenya country coordinator of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), citing  Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“It delivers a core package that combines evidence-based approaches that go beyond the health sector.”

Katherine Perry, US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief


Perry notes that girls and young women account for 71 per cent of new HIV infections among adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa, and DREAMS is about multiple solutions surrounding one problem.
“It delivers a core package that combines evidence-based approaches that go beyond the health sector, addressing the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ HIV/AIDS risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence and lack of education,” she says.
She adds that Kenya ranks highly among countries with HIV cases and has received almost US$39.5 million — the largest of the funding allocated to the ten countries.
The DREAMS project is being implemented by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense-U.S. Army Medical Research Unit/Walter Reed Project, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps with funding from PEPFAR, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nike Foundation.
Kenya will implement DREAMS in four counties that have high number of new HIV cases: three rural counties — Homa Bay, Siaya and Kisumu — and Nairobi, an urban county.
Emma Mwamburi, USAID HIV prevention specialist in Kenya, says the project is to reduce new infection cases among adolescent girls and young women in the four focus counties by 40 per cent in two years.
“This will be done through the provision of a tailored, comprehensive and evidence-informed services package targeting AGYW who are at the highest risk of the HIV infection, their male sexual partners, families and communities,” Mwamburi explains.
Mwamburi adds that the DREAMS strategy underscores the provision of the adolescent- friendly, age-appropriate services.
“The package of service will include condom promotion and provision, HIV testing and counselling … and school-based HIV and violence prevention,” she says.
Susan Mwangi, a behavioural scientist at CDC Kenya, says that the initiative is a big move that will impact the fight against HIV/AIDS.

However, she calls upon those implementing it to also work closely with the national and county level structures such as the National AIDS Control Council, Ministry of Labour Social Security and Services, which administers social protection, and the ministries of education and health.
Joshua Kimani, clinical director, Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP), Kenya, which is implemented by Canada-based University of Manitoba, and has enrolled 28,000 female sex workers in  Nairobi County, says DREAMS could help empower AYGW  in the informal settlements and slums, indicating how the mentoring programme could benefit young girls and women.  
“However, DREAMS should not only target the four counties because the disease is spreading rapidly in the entire nation,” says Kimani. “All stakeholders should be called upon and work together around the table for the sustainability of the initiative.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.