Agness John, Senior Technical Officer, Communications & Knowledge Management, FHI 360
Hannah Webster, Technical Officer, Research Utilization, FHI 360
Aubrey Weber, Technical Officer, Science Facilitation, FHI 360
The distances between households and villages in the Shinyanga region, a rural area of Tanzania, have created a challenge for empowerment workers with the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) program. These community members are trained to deliver biomedical, behavior change, and economic strengthening services and information to adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) to help them avoid HIV infection.
“[Every] month, I am supposed to reach 10 groups of vulnerable AGYW with information about available services like the savings and loans association, telling them about entrepreneurship opportunities available, mentoring them in how to venture into a new business, and providing information on HIV services” explained Winfrida John, an empowerment worker from Majengo Ward in Kahama Town Council. “Given the lack of reliable transport and sometimes lack of fare, it has been a great challenge to reach those groups, especially those far from where I live.”
When Shinyanga’s empowerment workers do not have access to reliable transportation, they are unable to encourage AGYW to take advantage of the economic strengthening opportunities and HIV prevention services offered through DREAMS to AGYW, including where to receive HIV testing, gender-based violence screening, family planning services, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) services.
To address this challenge, the USAID- and PEPFAR-supported Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project distributed 242 bicycles—one for each DREAMS empowerment worker in the region. The bicycles will help to better connect the empowerment workers to an estimated 48,400 AGYW in Shinyanga.
Dr. Philemon Sengati, Shinyanga’s regional commissioner, managed the bicycle distribution, along with the EpiC team and local government officials. Dr. Sengati emphasized the importance of interventions for AGYW and called on empowerment workers to reach all targeted AGYW at the ward, village, hamlet, and household levels.
“These bicycles will help us link AGYW to opportunities. AGYW who formed businesses such as batiki (African fabrics) and soap making, hairdressing salon, restaurant, and tailoring mart will receive mentorship from successful people in those fields. We will reach the meeting point on time and find all the participants enrolled in the [DREAMS program] without a significant delay as experienced before. This will minimize associated risks of new HIV infections among AGYW,” said Sarah Shija Kitindi, an empowerment worker from Pandagichiza Ward in Shinyanga.
Dr. Shinje Msuka, the EpiC regional program manager in Shinyanga, noted that it is encouraging to see improved transportation for empowerment workers because it leads to improved access to essential services for AGYW.
“Everyone should stand in their position and do their responsibility to ensure HIV epidemic control. An HIV-free generation is possible, and it should start with protecting AGYW that are at higher risk.”
Since its inception, DREAMS has reached more than 100,000 AGYW in Shinyanga with behavior change interventions and 20,000 AGYW with biomedical services like HIV testing, gender-based violence screenings, family planning services, STI services, and PrEP services. DREAMS has also reached 38,000 AGYW through economic strengthening services, which led to 13,200 individuals establishing their own businesses.