28 January 2016

Zambia: U.S AIDS Funds Timely

editorial

We want to commend the Government of the United States of America for investing in the initiative aimed at reducing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in Zambia.

This is a good development because the current status quo where adolescent girls and young women are lagging behind in HIV response will change for the better.

Moreover, this contribution is in addition to what the US government, through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFER), contributed to Zambia last year and when the PEPFER started in 2004.

The investment is equally timely because young women and adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by HIV in Zambia.

It is critical that girls are supported so that they can achieve their dreams because they have the ability to carry the country's development agenda forward.

The goal of this initiative is good because it will empower young women by addressing the social and economic factors such as poverty.

Other social and economic issues such as a lack of education and gender-based violence that put girls at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS will be addressed.

US Ambassador to Zambia Eric Schultz was right when he called for support for the girls so that they could realise their dreams.

Today, young men and women make decisions that will affect them for life, but such initiatives as the one from the US government will significantly make a huge difference.

The boys and girls make poor decisions, but the girl-children suffer more, often finding themselves pregnant, HIV-positive, not educated and with no support.

Therefore, with such an investment, it is anticipated that many young girls will have a positive story to tell in the future.

It is also important to note that five other ministries are working with the US government on this initiative and, therefore, we believe working across sectors will help reach adolescent girls and young women in new and innovative ways.

Going by the statistics of young women aged 20-24 years having HIV compared to 7.3 of males in this same age group, early interventions such as the DREAMS initiative will help to reverse this trend.

However, to reach the ambitious goal of reducing new HIV infections by significant levels, factors that make girls vulnerable to HIV should be addressed.

This means working directly with them and their male peers as well as their families, communities, churches, clinics and schools.

It is our belief that through the initiative, the country can make significant progress in that regard because reducing the impact of HIV requires that the needs and issues of women be addressed globally, nationally and at the community level.

Reversing the underlying socio-economic factors contributing to women's HIV risk - gender inequality, poverty, lack of economic and educational opportunities, lack of legal and human rights protections - is critical for success.

But these inequities will never be adequately addressed unless men and boys are fully involved and take responsibility for their actions.

Men and boys must not tolerate violence against women and girls, they must not engage in sexual behaviour that puts women and girls at risk.

So, concerted efforts like the DREAMS initiative should be supported because it has a possibility to broaden the preventative options available to these young women in terms of the development of novel HIV-specific biomedicals.

Zambia

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