In this Q&A, Mary Mittochi, the project director for DREAMS: Malawi Communities Investing in Education for Child Health and Safety, discusses how this new project will reduce the acquisition of HIV by adolescent girls and boys. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) named FHI 360 as one of the winners of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. The DREAMS partnership, led by PEPFAR with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and ViiV Healthcare, is helping adolescent girls and young women become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe.
As one of the 56 DREAMS Innovation Challenge winners, how will FHI 360 help adolescent girls and young women become Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe?
FHI 360’s DREAMS: Malawi Communities Investing in Education for Child Health and Safety project will focus on integrated, community-led efforts designed to ensure that education, health and economic drivers for staying in school and completing secondary education are simultaneously addressed and strengthened. Over time, this will reduce the incidence of HIV in adolescent girls and boys. By keeping girls in school and connecting them to a comprehensive range of services and supports, we aim to equip them and their communities with the knowledge and agency they need to make more informed choices about their health and their future.
What will success look like for the project?
The overall goal of the project is to achieve a 40 percent reduction in new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in the highest-burden areas of 10 sub-Saharan African countries. We are contributing to that larger goal by working on the ground in Malawi. Success means improving the lives of girls and young women and having communities understand the need for and support the creation of a safe and enabling environment where girls and young women can succeed. The project will be a success when these efforts are sustainable and managed locally after the project ends.
What are the challenges in Malawi that FHI 360 will address?
There is a disproportionately higher rate of HIV infection among adolescent girls compared to boys, which is symptomatic of multiple gender-based inequalities that are intricately woven into the society’s sociocultural and economic fabric. FHI 360 will use an intentional, integrated approach that addresses a range of factors that contribute to HIV infection rates among girls and young women across Malawi’s Machinga and Zomba districts. Our approach will fill an existing gap by focusing attention on girls’ access to secondary school as a mitigating factor in the incidence of HIV in this target population. This project will expand girls’ access to secondary school by offering a combination of meaningful incentives in the form of scholarships and economic strengthening. We will also provide forums for community activism and change that will tie girls’ education to broader benefits for the community.
How does education factor into young women’s health?
Education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence to make decisions regarding their health and well-being. Women constitute the majority of the world’s poorest, and their lack of access to life skills-based education, economic resources or opportunities makes them vulnerable to HIV infection. Young women and adolescent girls account for one in five new HIV infections in Africa overall, and in sub-Saharan Africa, they are almost three times as likely as their male peers to be living with HIV.
Education has the potential to decrease vulnerability to HIV for girls and young women. While there are well-documented linkages between girls’ poor education and their health, solutions tend to be implemented with little deliberate coordination of other contributing factors. FHI 360’s approach will simultaneously address the education, health and economic strengthening dimensions of secondary education for girls, which will minimize the chances that progress in one area is eroded by lack of attention to another.