Though significant progress has been made globally in stemming the increase of HIV and AIDS, and in lowering the misconceptions and stigma associated with the infections, unfortunately there are some areas of the world where this education and outreach is more challenging. Of new HIV infections, 71% of those among adolescents are of girls and young women, and nearly half of those new infections since 2014 have occurred in 10 sub-Saharan countries.
With the ultimate goal being a 40% reduction in new HIV/AIDS infections among adolescent girls by 2017, the DREAMS partnership was created. It is an ambitious $385 million partnership between the U.S. President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences, and ViiV Healthcare. (DREAMS is an acronym, exemplifying the mission to help these girls become determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored, and safe women.)
In order to help achieve the ultimate goal, DREAMS launched an innovation challenge in early 2016. The challenge was focused on providing a holistic approach to the prevention of infections, addressing six key focus areas: strengthening capacity of communities to deliver services, keeping girls in secondary school, linking men to services, supporting pre-exposure prophylaxis, providing a bridge to employment, and applying data to increase impact. In addition to these six areas of focus, the Innovation Challenge found two other goals they wanted to achieve specifically as part of this first challenge: to engage new partners who had never received PEPFAR funding previously, and to support funding for small organizations.
Over 800 Expressions of Interest from over 680 organizations were considered throughout the challenge, with 143 finalists who made it to the second stage to present a more detailed proposal, and ultimately 56 winners were selected from this group of finalists. Of these 56 winners, nearly half of these were new partners who had never previously been funded by PEPFAR, fulfilling one of the additional goals set at the beginning of this first innovation challenge. The other was attained when 64% of the submissions came from small community-based organizations.
Over the next two years, the 56 winning submissions will be implemented, at which time the true effect of the challenge will be able to be truly assessed. However, it’s already clear from the winners that the impact will be tremendous. Some of the winning submissions include mentoring programs in public libraries to help keep adolescent women in secondary school, increasing health care access for women with hearing impairments, increasing training for girls to have marketable skills, and enacting a national strategy to encourage women to use PrEP, among others.
Click here to find out more about the DREAMS Innovation Challenge.