Luanda Beach, Western Kenya—Evalyn Augi has been a dedicated mentor since 2021 to 60 girls supported under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) initiative. On a particularly bright and sunny day, Evalyn Augi bravely confronts the sweltering heat donned in a "USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto DREAMS Mentor" denim apron. Navigating around fishing boats along the pristine sands of Luanda Beach in Homa Bay County, bordering the vast Lake Victoria in Western Kenya, she embarks on a vital task.
Miss Augi is on a courageous, lifesaving mission—to inspire vulnerable adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) to acquire the knowledge, confidence, and competence to combat HIV, make informed decisions about their health, and deliver HIV prevention messages to both girls and the fisherfolk. Her goal is to destigmatize HIV, bring HIV services closer to AGYW, and encourage them to take appropriate measures to safeguard their health and well-being, based on their HIV status.
"Many adolescent girls and young women in my village come out here to engage in sexual activity for money," notes Evalyn. This poses a significant health risk as most people, including fisherfolk, in this HIV hotspot have multiple sexual partners.
“The unfortunate reality is that adolescent girls and women often find it difficult to negotiate for safer sex.”— Evalyn Augi, a DREAMS Mentor, USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto project
According to the 2020 Kenya AIDS Response Progress Report, at 19.1 percent, Homa Bay County has the highest HIV prevalence in the country—almost fourfold higher than the national average of 4.5 percent. Of particular concern, AGYW constitute nearly a quarter (22 percent) of this burden in the county, emphasizing the significance of unique challenges faced by this age group in the context of HIV prevention and care.
To address this challenge, the government of Kenya is working with PEPFAR to implement the DREAMS initiative through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Nuru Ya Mtoto project in Homa Bay and Migori Counties. The initiative is rolling out a comprehensive approach that focuses on educating AGYW, thereby reducing their vulnerability.
“In my community, one of the reasons AGYW are vulnerable is men’s power and privilege over them. I knew reaching out to men would be a challenge because of the stigma and discrimination related to HIV topics.”— Evalyn Augi, a DREAMS Mentor, USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto project
Since October 2022, PATH’s USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto project has engaged 721 other mentors like Evalyn who have conducted 682 outreach sessions, reaching 18,346 male sex partners of AGYW with HIV prevention services and education.
In 2023 alone, USAID Nuru Ya Mtoto newly enrolled 20,790 AGYW in the project’s DREAMS program, and 5,605 successfully completed primary core interventions to graduate from the program. The project also reached 32,363 AGYW with HIV testing services; 13,037 with counseling on contraceptive methods; and 1,704 AGYW with pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—medication taken to prevent acquisition of HIV among people who do not have but are vulnerable to HIV. As part of the DREAMS program’s comprehensive service package, the project also supported training to enhance financial capabilities for 35,563 AGYW and supported 1,134 survivors of gender-based violence to access clinical care services.
In Luanda Beach, Evalyn reaches up to 50 fisherfolk every time she organizes a community outreach activity. She shares HIV prevention messages to fisherfolk while advocating for the practice of safe sex through the consistent and appropriate use of condoms, which she distributes. She also discusses the importance of male circumcision to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV among heterosexual men and emphasizes the protective role of PrEP. Additionally, during these interactions, Evalyn facilitates access to HIV testing services and provides self-test kits to the fisherfolk.
“In my community, women are not expected to be vocal on issues like HIV, yet it affects all of us. After my sessions, I get excited to see men take up HIV self-test kits and condoms, which most of them now know how to use. They are more enlightened and aware of their health,” Evalyn said.
Evalyn's story serves as a powerful illustration of turning the tide in the fight against HIV within communities. She exemplifies the essence of community leadership essential for ending AIDS as a public health threat. Her courageous and lifesaving mission involves not only inspiring AGYW to protect themselves from HIV but also actively providing HIV prevention services to their male sex partners. By bringing HIV services closer to AGYW, Miss Augi demonstrates the core principle of this year's World AIDS Day theme—ensuring community leadership.