National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Observed annually on 10th March, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is coordinated by the US Office on Women’s Health. Groups, organisations, state and local health officials unite to spread knowledge and information about HIV/AIDS and its frequently overlooked impact on the lives of women and girls across the globe.

We are honouring this important awareness day by sharing the context of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania and the work African Initiatives is doing with Tanzania Women Research Foundation (TAWREF) to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable women and girls in relation to their sexual reproductive health (SRH), HIV/AIDS knowledge and treatment.

Context: HIV/AIDS in Tanzania

HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in Tanzania; there are an estimated 1,500,000 people living with HIV and 120,000 of these are 14 years-of-age or younger. A 2013 UNICEF study concluded that up to 20% of children in rural Tanzania contract HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. This survey also revealed how 63% of children aged 11-14 years were sexually active; many children are unaware of the risks of contracting HIV given a common misconception that HIV cannot be contracted under the age of 15 years.

Women and girls are three times more likely to be HIV positive than men due to gender-based discrimination and deeply embedded cultural norms such as polygamy and sexual activity in school. Maasai men often travel to urban centres for trading, employment and social purposes – these men risk contracting sexually transmitted infections and bringing these back to their wives and communities.

The freedom to decide when to reproduce, how often and with whom is rarely a decision that rests in women’s and girls’ hands. Educational authorities traditionally view HIV and family planning as a parental responsibility, yet sex and HIV+ diagnoses remain taboo subjects in many Tanzanian communities. To further exacerbate the problem, while many women face barriers to public information and services related to SRH and HIV, for those who are lucky to have access, the quality of services is often very poor.

African Initiatives’ HIV/AIDS Projects

Our health and well-being programme tackles the issues related to female SRH as indicated above. We currently run two projects with TAWREF that directly work to combat the problem of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania:

Accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for Vulnerable Women and Girls: Funded by UK aid from the UK government, this project was launched in April 2018 and is designed to improve the health and well-being of hard-to-reach groups in Hai district, particularly female sex workers, vulnerable young women, people with disabilities and people living with HIV. It is a targeted outreach project that works through peer educators, the agents of change, as well as with government service providers and community leaders. TAWREF named the project ‘Shirikisha Wote’ which means ‘Involve All’ in Swahili, and this is the vision we have for this vital, life-changing work. Read more about our project

HIV and AIDS Intervention: This 3-year Trusts and Foundations-funded project increases knowledge of HIV prevention amongst teachers, children and parents. With the support of local governments and health facilities, we provide testing and early access to care and treatment in twelve schools in Kilimanjaro region.

Our third and final project year (started February 2019) focusses on translating improved understanding of HIV/AIDS -achieved in the first two years – into actions that reduce children’s exposure to HIV infection. We are working to provide 36 teachers, 720 children, 2,400 parents and 60 local leaders with a deeper understanding of what drives positive behaviour change as behaviour change is key to improving children’s decision-making power in relation to their SRH.

Parents often discourage children to speak out about incidences of abuse out of fear of embarrassment or shaming in their communities. What’s more, high risk activities we have reported include children accepted gifts, lifts and food in return for sexual favours. A key component of year 3 focusses on increasing parents’ responsibility for their children’s safety, thereby protecting them from exposure to HIV transmission. This will be achieved through training and community sensitisation meetings which support parents to develop strategies to help keep children safe and monitored, and cover key issues such as SRH rights and HIV/AIDS. Read more about our project

For collectively funding 62% of the third year of our project, we wanted to say a special thank you to the following Trusts and Foundations: St Mark’s Overseas Aid Trust; The James Tudor FoundationMercury Phoenix TrustThe Gibbs Charitable TrustThe Souter Charitable Trust.

Meet Anna, HIV Peer Educator

We wanted to share Anna’s experience as one of our peer educators as it demonstrates the impact our project is having on the lives of parents and children in Kilimanjaro region: “When I was giving HIV/AIDS education, my peers did not want to believe what I was telling them. Then one friend confided in me that she had been tested and was HIV positive. Her family discriminated her – they would not even share their meals with her. I visited them and talked to them. At first they tried to chase me away and told me that what I was saying was nonsense. Slowly, they started to listen to what I had to say. I am still visiting my friend and her family. I am counselling them to help change their attitude and gain a better understanding of HIV/AIDS.