- Today, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Africa Bureau, officially launched its young women and girls initiative tagged GIRLS ACT (Awareness Campaign Tour) as part of its public health campaign interventions for young women and girls aged 15-24.
The campaign, which will take the form of a mobile caravan, is anchored on two objectives: preventing new HIV infections amongst those who are negative and promoting positive living with dignity amongst those who are HIV+.
“We are aware of the grim statistics and how HIV/AIDS continues to affect young women and girls disproportionately. After due consultations with youth led groups, young people and focus group discussions, we came to the conclusion that we need to take the services and information to where the young women and girls are, using approaches that are appealing, exciting and spark their participation. A majority of the girls do not visit health facilities for various reasons, and the ones who are positive continue to struggle with self-esteem issues and stigma, which negatively impacts their health. If we want to get different results, we must do things differently and that is what we are doing with the GIRLS ACT,” shared Alice Kayongo, Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager E/W Africa.
According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), despite progress made in HIV/AIDS response, young people, especially young women and girls continue to be overly affected by HIV. About 380,000 new HIV infections occur among young women aged 15–24 annually. In 2013, almost 60% of all new HIV infections among young people aged 15–24 occurred among adolescent girls and young women. Globally, 15% of women living with HIV are aged 15–24, and 80% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.
“South Africa currently faces rising rates of HIV infection among adolescent girls. In fact, recent studies reveal that girls are 8 times more likely to become HIV+ than their male peers. Combined with high rates of sexual violence and poverty, this creates a perfect storm and our girls need to be empowered to act to protect themselves and their futures. Girls ACT is an initiative by AHF to create safe spaces where young people and their communities can access healthcare and education which will allow them to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health,” said Larissa Klazinga, AHF Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager: Southern Africa.
As a result of the campaign, young women and girls will have access to various services and information on HIV/AIDS, menstrual hygiene, psychosocial support, sexual reproductive health and legal aid amongst others. AHF Uganda Cares will kick-start the campaign using the moniker “GIRLS KISOBOKA” in a colourful ceremony that will be attended by young people, dignitaries from both the private and public sector, members of parliament, civil society organizations, and celebrities at Bwaise-Kawempe Growers Grounds in Kampala; after which the campaign will head to Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
“I am beyond excited about the GIRLS ACT. This is certainly an out of the box initiative, where the caravan will move from one location to another with a team of counselors and testers to ensure that we are empowered with the right information in a safe space,” gushed Eron (an 18 year old student from Uganda).
“It is really great to see the support that we have received from young people, governments and partners on the GIRLS ACT. The excitement from the girls is contagious and does reveal that we are doing something right. We plan to extend the GIRLS ACT to other countries we support and to more locations in the first four countries. Beyond the campaign, we are working closely with partners to ensure that the girls get the necessary medical and psychosocial support to help them live more productive lives. It is my hope that more countries and organizations will take up this initiative and take the services to where the girls are,” added Dr. Penninah Iutung, AHF Africa Bureau Chief.