Challenging Innovators to Help Us Make DREAMS Come True

Posted by Deborah L. Birx
February 17, 2016
[Photo Courtesy of Girl Effect]

Every adolescent girl and young woman deserves an opportunity to pursue her dreams. Whether that means getting an education, growing up healthy, living a life free from violence, securing a meaningful employment, or passing all of those dreams to her own children --  the global community must empower and support her efforts to reach them.

Over the last three decades, in my travels around the globe, I’ve met thousands of extraordinary young women -- young people with ambitious aspirations, as well as the skills and determination to make them real. But too often, particularly in Africa, HIV gets in the way.

Today, the DREAMS Partnership took a stand toward rewriting this tragic but far too common story by issuing a call for innovative ideas as part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Janssen Pharmaceutica NV (one of the Janssen pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson), and ViiV Healthcare committed $85 million for the Challenge to award solutions that infuse new thinking and approaches to give young women the opportunity to live Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe lives. 

The Challenge builds on the important progress made through the DREAMS Partnership, which PEPFAR launched on World AIDS Day 2014. This now $385 million Partnership’s goals are ambitious: reduce HIV infections in adolescent girls living in the highest-burden areas of 10 African countries by 25 percent by the end of 2016 and by 40 percent by the end of 2017.   This means we’re working across Africa, including in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Our aims must be bold: saving and improving the lives of millions of incredible women and girls. They deserve nothing less.

To reach these targets, DREAMS is providing a core package of evidence-informed interventions that extend beyond the health sector, addressing the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ HIV risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, and lack of education. In other words, we are seeking to empower girls and young women, reduce the risk of their sexual partners, strengthen families, and mobilize communities for sustainable change. It’s no coincidence that our aims directly align with the global goals agreed to this past September at the United Nations, ending the AIDS epidemic and achieving gender equality by 2030.

The DREAMS Innovation Challenge seeks to build on this progress by driving innovative, sustainable solutions in six areas: 1) strengthening capacity of communities for service delivery, 2) keeping girls in secondary school, 3) linking men to health services, 4) supporting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), 5) providing a bridge to employment, and 6) using data to increase impact.

Over the past 13 years, we’ve made tremendous progress in the HIV/AIDS response. Globally, since 2000, new HIV infections are down 35 percent -- and 58 percent among children. AIDS-related deaths have declined by 42 percent since their peak in 2004. Yet, adolescent girls and young women have been largely left behind.

AIDS remains the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age globally. And girls and young women account for 71 percent of all new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, 380,000 adolescent girls and young women become newly infected with HIV -- more than 1,000 every day.

DREAMS, and its Innovation Challenge, are out to change this. We’re calling on innovators and thought-leaders – particularly women’s groups at the community level -- to join us. Bring us your ideas and your solutions, which can help make this generation of adolescent girls and young women an AIDS-free generation.  

About the Author: Deborah L. Birx, M.D., serves as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Representative for Global Health Diplomacy.

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post Imact blog.  The DREAMS Partnership includes PEPFAR, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead, and ViiV Healthcare.

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