Using HER Voice in the Fight Against AIDS

This blog post was written by Sarah Hollis, Senior Communications Manager, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Friends).

On December 1, the global community will come together to mark the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Organizations like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) have helped cut the number of AIDS-related deaths in half since the peak in 2005. But in many countries, HIV infections remain extremely high.

Adolescent girls and young women face especially difficult odds. In some African countries, young women aged 15-24 are up to eight times more likely to be HIV positive than young men their age. Around the world, a young woman is infected with HIV every 90 seconds.

But with support from the Global Fund, young women are starting to fight back. A new HIV Epidemic Response (HER) initiative – HER Voice – is working to empower networks of adolescent girls and young women across Africa. The HER Voice mantra, “Nothing for us without us,” is based on the principle that adolescent girls and young women have a vital role to play in driving and shaping the HIV response. Their experiences and needs must be central for policy making, program design and implementation.

The innovation and creativity of the young women involved in this initiative breathe new life into HIV/AIDS activism in Africa. Beverly Mutindi (left), a HER Voice Ambassador from Kenya, is using artificial intelligence to reshape the conversation around sexual and reproductive health. She created Sophie Bot, an app that she calls, “Siri for sexual health,” to combat the spread of misinformation among young people. Users can ask Sophie Bot questions and she uses artificial intelligence to respond, either by voice or text, based on information from Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Across the continent, in Cameroon, HER Voice Ambassador Brenda Fuen Formin is also using technology to amplify the voices of young women and girls. Working with friends and colleagues across sub-Saharan Africa, Brenda is creating new safe spaces online for victims of sexual violence and HIV positive women. Using an anonymous blogging platform and bringing medical doctors and psychologists to provide online support, she is helping vulnerable women connect, share their stories and receive psychosocial support.

Programs like HER Voice are essential tools for engaging hard-to-reach and underserved communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But these programs are only available when the international community comes together to support the Global Fund. Every three years, donor governments, the private sector and private foundations make pledges to the Global Fund – called replenishment. The next replenishment, which takes place in October 2019, will require a strong commitment from the U.S. to leverage increased support from other donors and help end this epidemic for good.

The Global Fund has set a bold target to reduce the number of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by 58 percent in 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years. By supporting the Global Fund’s next fundraising round, we can make that target a reality and ensure that young women and girls have access to the essential treatment and prevention programs they need to thrive.

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Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Friends) advocates for U.S. support of the Global Fund, and the goal to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. As an advocate, Friends engages U.S. policymakers and influencers in conversation about the Global Fund’s lifesaving work, and highlights the significant returns on health investment, both for global partners and for America. For more information about Friends of the Global Fight, visit www.theglobalfight.org.