THE United States Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, last night led the relaunch of the DREAMS Lesotho programme.
DREAMS is an acronym for the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe programme which is aimed at combatting HIV/AIDS by protecting, empowering and investing in young women.
It was initiated in Lesotho in 2015 and works across 10 Sub-Saharan African countries to reduce the rate of HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women.
It does this by offering HIV testing services, post-violence care for survivors of gender-based violence, school-based HIV and violence prevention programmes and access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive healthcare as well as a full range of contraceptive methods.
Ambassador Gonzales was joined by First Lady 'Masekoalane Majoro and Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo at the launch.
Speaking at the launch ceremony in Maseru yesterday, Ms Gonzales encouraged all Basotho girls and young women to participate in the life-changing programme.
"I have had the privilege of meeting so many Basotho girls and young women who have inspired me by their courage, resilience, and desire to empower themselves, those around them, and their country," Ms Gonzales said.
"When the rights of women and girls are recognised, when their needs are met, and when their voices are heard, they are empowered to drive change in their families, their communities, and the world."
She also thanked the programme's four implementing partners: Baylor Lesotho, Karabo ea Bophelo, Jhpiego, Population Services International, and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation for their strong collaboration and comprehensive support to adolescent girls and young women enrolled in the DREAMS Lesotho programme.
The campaign also announced the deployment of 38 DREAMS ambassadors, who are young women selected from within the DREAMS programme based on demonstrated leadership and their ability to work as community-level advocates, linking their peers to HIV/AIDS services and generating heightened public awareness of the DREAMS programme across their communities.
The programme is supported under the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and in 2020, the US increased its investment in the DREAMS Lesotho programme from US$10 million to US$14 million.
The additional funding has allowed the programme to expand its work across four districts, namely, Maseru, Berea, Mafeteng, and Mohale's Hoek, and increase services to adolescent girls and young women, a particularly vulnerable segment of the Basotho population.
On her part, Ms Majoro said she was happy to be part of the DREAMS launch because she was "unapologetic about fighting inequalities of all types".
"I stand, speak for and support all those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged, or at risk in any way, for reasons that are beyond what they themselves can change. Not very long ago, in September 2020, I was in front of you together with my colleagues at the Ministry of Gender, speaking to you about the crisis of gender-based violence (or GBV) that is facing all Basotho women, and committing to jointly fight to end the scourge.
"Well, today I'm here again to tell you that our young girls are even more at risk of GBV, at an elevated risk of HIV infection, at an even higher risk of social exclusion and being disenfranchised - simply by virtue of being young and being a woman at the same time. That is a big problem...
"I cannot begin to express how happy I am to be here, to commit my support to the DREAMS programme, to the organisations that have been on the ground implementing this programme and providing life changing services to Basotho girls and young women; to the ever-generous United States Government through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," Ms Majoro said.
Mr Maqelepo expressed gratitude to the US government and all the organisations who had worked to make the DREAMS project a success.
"The Ministry of Health has long-standing partnerships and collaborations with each and every organisation that is involved in the DREAMS programme. We have seen and supported them through some of the most important national programmes in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"All of them have contributed immensely to the amazing progress that our country has made towards eliminating HIV. It is important that we continue to recognize that, and express our gratitude to their dedication to helping us solve the most pressing challenges faced by our health system and our country. In the coming week, the world will be recognizing World AIDS Day, and because of the dedication and work of these organizations here, and many others, Lesotho is able to celebrate milestone after milestone, with the rest of the world.
To the United States Government, Your Excellency Ambassador Gonzales, we could not have asked for a better companion to be walking this journey with, and to be winning these important battles with. We thank you unreservedly for your support, and look forward to longer, deeper relationships between our two governments," Mr Maqelepo said.