PSI targets girls and young women in HIV fight


Limpho Sello

POPULATION Services International (PSI) Lesotho has shifted its focus to an adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) programme that will now become one of its flagship initiatives.

A collaboration with other implementing partners, the programme offers HIV testing, treatment and prevention services, sexual reproductive health (SRH) services and gender-based violence (GBV) counselling among others.

Named Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) the programme is a private public partnership aimed at reducing the rate of HIV infection among AGYW in the highest HIV burden countries.

PSI head of marketing and communications Mpho Brown said the programme was started in 2015 in 10 Sub-Saharan African countries among them Lesotho.

Mr Brown said the programme was his organisation’s flagship project starting last month. He said they are now working with the Ministry of Health, other government departments International organisations such as Jhpiego, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation (though Karabo ea Bophelo).

Also supported by the United States (US) government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the programme is currently running in Berea, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Maseru.

“The project is targeting AGYW aged 10 to 24 years as well as their male sexual partners aged 20 to 49 years,” Mr Brown said.

Mr Brown said adolescent girls and young women face complex challenges and risks make them an extremely vulnerable to HIV infection and other forms of injustice.

“Girls and young women account for 74 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa and nearly 1000 AGYW are infected with HIV daily.

“Issues of social isolation, poverty, discriminatory cultural norms, orphan hood, GBV and inadequate schooling all contribute to girls’ vulnerability to HIV and a life not lived to its full potential. The DREAMS initiative goes beyond typical health initiatives in addressing these factors, working towards meeting the sustainable development goal of ending AIDS by 2030.”

The implementation was also triggered by the HIV burden among women with 30, 4 percent as compared to males’ 20, 8 percent in Lesotho according to the Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) 2017 report.

The vulnerability of girls and young to HIV is driven by behavioral factors (inclusive of early sexual debut, multiple sexual partners, age-disparate sexual relationships, transactional sex, sex work), biological factors (biological susceptibility of women to infection, high viral load among HIV positive men who are not on treatment but are having sexual relations with young women, other infections like  sexually transmitted infections) and structural factors such as early child marriages, he said.

“Lesotho is one of the Sub-Saharan African countries that accounted for nearly half of all the new HIV infections that occurred among AGYW globally in 2014. It is through these high incidence rates that Lesotho saw it fit to implement the DREAMS initiative.”

He added that AGYW can expect to get a range of services and support depending on their specific needs and profile.

Services include HIV testing, education subsidies, post-violence care for survivors of GBV, school-based HIV and violence prevention programmes, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and condom promotion and provision for AGYW and their partners.

“The project is also offering SRH services to prevent teenage pregnancies,” Mr Brown said.

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