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A Good Start to Investing in Young Women and Girls

Analysis Haley Nicholson, Legislative Analyst

Recently on Capitol Hill, Senator Lindsay Graham (SC) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) hosted the second in a series of hearings designed to highlight U.S. investments in global health and the benefits they yield. The focus of this hearing was HIV and AIDS, and the importance of and continued need for the U.S. government to maintain its leadership in fighting this pandemic. The distinguished panel included Dr. Deborah Birx, Ambassador-at-Large and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Dr. Mark Dybul, Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Sir Elton John, founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Dr. Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church.

In their testimonies, Ambassador Birx and Dr. Dybul emphasized the alarming rates of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women — the majority of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. They emphasized the importance of focusing on these populations as a top priority for U.S. government foreign aid investments. To get a better understanding of why it is critical for the U.S. government to invest in HIV prevention initiatives among young women and girls abroad, consider the following stats:

Ambassador Birx also highlighted the recent launch of PEPFAR’s DREAMS Initiative, a project that brings together the Department of State, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Nike Foundation. The program’s aim is to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women in countries with some of the highest rates of HIV infection and unmet need for reproductive health services. The goal of the initiative is to provide a combination of health, educational, and economic support services for young women and girls.

Later in the hearing, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) expressed her support for the DREAMS Initiative, but pushed Ambassador Birx and Dr. Dybul to talk more about the solutions to help young women and girls overcome the staggering infection rates they face. Both stood behind the DREAMS model, which at its core will focus on ensuring access to adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health, strengthening communities, strengthening families, and decreasing risk in sex partners. Dr. Birx stressed the combination of interventions this initiative will rely on, including violence prevention and post-violence care, increasing consistent condom usage and availability, improving the range of contraceptive choices, and providing secure educational and economic opportunities for young women and girls and their families.

DREAMS is funded for two years, and many advocates in the HIV and family planning integration community are looking forward to seeing what results will come from these investments. The hope is that DREAMS will provide us with data-driven evidence to support increased investments in prevention programs targeting young women and girls and other vulnerable populations. These hearings are a good reminder not only of how far U.S. investments can go for young women and girls, but also the distance we have left to achieve an HIV and AIDS-free world.

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