The total number of people living with HIV has increased to 33 million people globally with nearly 7,500 new infections each day. The impact of HIV/AIDS is stronger in poor households and communities. Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in sub-Saharan Africa are 14 times more at risk of being HIV positive than boys and young men in the same age group. Her Initiative in collaboration with ICAP Columbia is implementing the FIKIA+ project in Mwanza which aims at providing comprehensive prevention, care, and treatment for HIV using social, economic, and biological interventions, in order to reach AGYW and reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection.
The FIKIA+ project is implemented in collaboration with local governments and delivers a core package of layered evidence-based interventions that target multiple vulnerabilities to HIV infection for AGYW. FIKIA+ addresses not only social, cultural, behavioral, and biomedical risk factors of HIV but also, the economic risk factors to reduce AGYW’s reliance on transactional sex and strengthen their self-efficacy and decision-making power in relationships like when to have sex and the use of a condom. All this is attainable when a girl or young woman is financially independent.
The bridge between AGYW economic dependency and HIV vulnerability is very complex and operates at an individual, interpersonal, family, and societal level. Those who live with HIV may find themselves more likely to experience acute stress and resort to risky coping strategies that increase the risk of getting more diseases; for example, an adolescent girl may exchange sex for material resources to meet her basic needs. In addition, financially dependent individuals may also live in locations that are prone to unsafe sexual behavior, have fewer support services, and offer weaker legal protections for the most vulnerable.
Through FIKIA+, adolescent girls and young women in Mwanza are girls who are given another chance to have the power to choose and make their own decisions. This is by introducing them to opportunities to participate in life skills and sexual reproductive health training which further guide brainstorming around potential solutions to reducing the existing inequities hence controlling AGYW’s vulnerability to HIV and SRH issues. The sessions informed the AGYWs on the combination of HIV prevention (biomedical, structural, and behavioral approaches), with a special focus on the biomedical aspect of the three key elements. This particular session highlighted Treatment as Prevention, updates on CURE research, PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), oral PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), and other exciting diverse PrEP options underway including the injectable Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and the Dapivirine vaginal ring for comprehensive HIV response.
On the other hand, Her Initiative helps young women by introducing them to economic empowerment training sessions. The sessions include training on skills to start nurturing their shuttered dreams, so that they can enhance their personal development, by new businesses, how to manage existing businesses, way to pace with the digital economy, online marketing, financial literacy, and social media marketing.
It is quite evident that the new era of highly emerging technologies is taking the world by storm. To match the pace of the growing digital economy, Her Initiative has directed its efforts in empowering girls and young women with digital skills to navigate information on sexual and reproductive health, and their business in these changing times. Approximately 30 million people are using the internet in Tanzania which translates to too many opportunities for access to information in the digital world. This being the case, Her Initiative despite teaching these young women life skills and basic marketing in business, has also directed effort in training on digital skills, specifically, for accessing SRH information and digital marketing.
‘’Adolescent girls and young women are often prevented from seeking services and making decisions about their own health, this results to high risk of acquiring HIV and increase their vulnerability to HIV’’ Ms. Lilian (SRHR trainer)
The main goal is to make sure these young ladies get access to online SRH information and achieve financial stability, and, Yes! Through these pieces of training, 19 new businesses were launched with 60% being individual businesses and 40% being group businesses. Through customer relationship pieces of training, these young girls have attained a 100% profit increase with 85% of the businesses that have attracted new customers and 60% of businesses that expanded. Also on the run to digital marketing 35% of businesses have transformed their businesses into digital businesses. Her Initiative has influenced more of this transformation by providing digital tools to the groups of these young women, including six smartphones in six groups that will help them access digital opportunities and make it easy for them to market their businesses online.
Also because of FIKIA+, these young women have improved their life skills which have helped them to fight against depression, emotions, and stress and they have become creative thinkers, decision-makers, and problem solvers.
“Economic interventions for HIV prevention means to use financial or economic incentives, strategies, or processes to increase the opportunities and capacities among targeted individuals to make voluntary and informed decisions regarding behaviors to prevent HIV risk and transmission, by making the AGYW financial independent means you are making them free from risky sexual behavior” Lydia Charles, Executive Director Her Initiative
‘’Through FIKIA+ project I have managed to retain my falling dreams by improving my life skills experience which has helped me to abstain from risk sexuality behavior’’ Neema Marco (beneficiary)