HIV/AIDS Prevention Initiatives not Reaching At-Risk Girls in Africa, Panel Says
HIV prevention and education initiatives are not reaching girls in Africa who are at an increased risk of contracting the virus because of isolation and poverty, a panel of experts said Monday at a Global Health Council forum, CQ HealthBeat reports. "Millions of girls -- owing to their social isolation, economic vulnerability and fragile family structures -- are at significant risk (of contracting HIV)," Judith Bruce, senior associate at the Population Council, said, adding, "Conventional youth-serving initiatives are not reaching these girls." According to Bruce, young African girls often have low school attendance and few friends, making them hard to reach. Impoverished girls are more likely to engage in commercial sex work, which increases their risk of contracting HIV, Bruce said. She added that orphaned girls are three times more likely to engage in commercial sex work than nonorphans. Bruce also discussed problems associated with young married girls, "emphas[izing] that married sex is not necessarily safe sex." She added that discordant couples, where one partner is HIV-positive and the other partner is HIV-negative, are particularly hard to reach, CQ HealthBeat reports. Betty Makoni -- founder of the Zimbabwe-based Girl Child Network, which organizes girls' clubs in towns and villages -- discussed the "huge crisis of girl sexual abuse," particularly rape and molestation, in Zimbabwe. Bruce outlined two outreach initiatives underway in Ethiopia and Kenya that are designed to reach isolated young girls. The project in Ethiopia seeks to engage girls by rewarding them with a goat if they attend school and participate in a girls' club for 18 months. In Kenya, the project aims to encourage couples to take HIV tests together and reimburses their travel expenses to testing sites. According to Michele Moloney-Kitts, director of program services in the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, there has been "a significant expansion" of youth HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. She said programs funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief reached more than four million youth last year. PEPFAR is helping to fund the project in Kenya and sponsors projects similar to the one in Ethiopia, she said (Blinkhorn, CQ HealthBeat, 1/24).
A kasiernetwork.org webcast of the event is available online.