Remarks at the DREAMS Initiative First Anniversary

Harare, December 7 2016

  • Distinguished guests from the Ministry of
    Ambassador Thomas with DREAMS club members from Nyazura and Bulawayo
    Ambassador Thomas with DREAMS club members from Nyazura and Bulawayo

    Health and Child Care, the National AIDS Council, and other representatives of the Government of Zimbabwe

  • Representatives from the Diplomatic Community
  • DREAMS Ambassadors
  • Implementing Partners, colleagues and friends:

Good Morning

Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) Initiative!  It is the perfect time to celebrate this important initiative – in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and having just commemorated World AIDS Day.

Many of you have been actively engaged in the DREAMS initiative as either a beneficiary or an implementing partner, while some of you may be hearing about DREAMS for the very first time.  DREAMS is an ambitious two-year partnership to reduce new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by 40 percent in ten sub-Saharan countries, including Zimbabwe.

Why do we need DREAMS?  In Zimbabwe, HIV prevalence among children is the same for both boys and girls – about 3 percent.  But as girls become young women, they acquire HIV at much higher rates than their male counterparts.  By the time they are 23 years old, HIV prevalence is 11 percent in men – and 22 percent in women.  These figures are alarming and are similar across other nations in sub-Saharan Africa.  Over the years, we have come to learn that young women face unique challenges.  These challenges include: limited access to basic education and health care; various forms of discrimination, including gender-based violence; and harmful attitudes toward women in their communities.  These challenges increase a young woman’s vulnerability to HIV.

Accumulating evidence shows that empowering adolescent girls and young women to protect their health and well-being is critical to achieving an AIDS-free generation.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the National AIDS Council, civil society, and local partners, implements the DREAMS initiative in six districts across Zimbabwe: Mazowe, Gweru, Makoni, Mutare, Chipinge, and Bulawayo.  These are the districts with the highest HIV prevalence in the country, as well as persistently higher maternal mortality and teen pregnancy rates.

DREAMS is delivering a set of core interventions that go beyond the health sector, addressing the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase young girls’ risk of becoming infected with HIV, including poverty, gender inequity, sexual violence, and lack of education.  Specifically, these interventions will:
(1) Reach adolescent girls ages 15-19 and young women ages 20-24 both in-and-out of school with HIV and gender-based violence prevention;
(2) Provide HIV testing and counseling and access to family planning services;
(3) Strengthen families;
(4) Mobilize communities for change; and
(5) Reach boys and young men with voluntary medical male circumcision and anti-retroviral treatment.

Over the first year of implementation in the six DREAMS districts, PEPFAR support provided HIV prevention messages and information to 385,000 young girls and women, as well as young men, in addition to HIV assessment and counseling.   More than 20,000 highly vulnerable girls received support including assistance to return to or stay in school, psychosocial support, life skills building, vocational training, and assistance to start savings groups and small businesses.  In addition, 110,000 girls and young women in the DREAMS age group received HIV testing services.

Later in the program you will receive a profile of an adolescent girl or young woman, and you will be invited to visit partner booths to understand the types of services available through DREAMS.  I encourage you to take to heart the profile of the young woman you will receive.

I have met some of the young women taking part in DREAMS.  In the face of tremendous challenges, they have proven to be resilient, hopeful, and actively seeking a brighter future.  Let us take to heart the stories and suggestions we receive from these women and continue to support programs that truly help girls and young women remain AIDS-free.  We have a long road ahead and it will take all of us collectively to make DREAMS a success.  Thank you for your partnership and for your commitment to helping young woman and girls achieve their DREAMS.

Tatenda, Siyabonga