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July 19
Empowered and educated – our DREAMS for the youth of South Africa

My name is Njabulo Banda and I am from KwaNdengezi in Ethekwini.

I am here to tell you all about the DREAMS campaign which HST is running in KwaZulu Natal.


Did you know adolescent girls and young women make up 74% of people who are infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa? And did you know that girls and young women are eight times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys and men in the same age group?

There are a number of reasons why teenage girls and young women are at higher risk of HIV infection. Some of it has to do with biology, which means women become more easily infected. ​

Another reason is poverty, which leads young women to have "sugar daddy" and "blesser" relationships with older men. Some girls and women have to do this to put food on the table. Others are influenced by peer pressure and a desire for "nice things" from sanitary pads to lip gloss to phones.

Young people also tell us they are afraid to go to the clinic for advice because they are not youth-friendly and they feel judged by nurses at the clinic.  

Some do not know that they have the right to say "no" to sex and that their body belongs only to them.

Others are the victims of rape and abuse and cannot negotiate safe sex.

Of course, not all girls are affected equally. Girls from poor families or in the rural areas, or places with minimal basic resources, are most at risk because they are more vulnerable. In South Africa, race and class intersect and overlap because of the history of apartheid, so most of the girls and young women infected are black/Africans.

DREAMS is a programme that addresses the unique needs of adolescent girls and young women in South Africa. The goal of DREAMS is to reduce new HIV infections by improving the lives of girls and young women and help them develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, Aids-free, Mentored and Safe women.

For this to happen we need to ensure we have youth friendly services so teen girls and young women can access health services such as HIV counselling and testing, or start antiretroviral therapy if necessary.   It is important that these girls and women know their rights, can protect themselves from pregnancy and STIs and complete their schooling.

A girl with an education is more likely to remain HIV negative and achieve her career goals.  These girls are more able to support themselves and their families, less likely to face violence and abuse, and more likely to enter the workforce and contribute to the economy.

A huge part of the problem is that they don't have proper role models to look up to. Social media such as Facebook and Instagram create the illusion that celebrities and social media "influencers" who flaunt expensive brands of everything from shoes to champagne are normal. Ours is an aspirational society and the pressure on both boys and girls to keep up and flash cash is immense.

Did you know that in clubs, young people can actually "rent" bottles for their table for the night, so that their Instagram pics look like they can afford a table full of expensive alcohol (they have to give back most of those bottles at the end of the night). Basically it is all for show.

Designer labels and fancy parties cannot take the place of character and hard work. The value of a man should not depend on how many luxuries he can provide. The value of a woman should not depend on the clothes she wears or an expensive hairstyle.

My message is "love and take care of yourself.  It is ok to be different or unique or not do all the things that your friends do. Be your own person

I come from a very ordinary family but have been able to study psychology, get a Master's degree in early childhood intervention, and am now working on my PhD.

We need to change the youth's view of success- show them that there is another way – a way that will ensure a happier and healthier future.

Follow our DREAMS work on Facebook here.

May 31
HST is leveraging the power of digital media for social change
At Health Systems Trust, we have conceptualised an innovative social media campaign driving behaviour change among young people in South Africa to take up HIV testing and treatment services.
You're better off knowing, the campaign tag-line, is premised on the fact that in this digital era people have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, yet many do not know their HIV status. In language that resonates with youth and high risk groups our campaign messages seek to encourage people to take the first step and test for HIV, building on this to encourage them to seek and adhere to treatment.

The campaign uses several media channels to disseminate high impact messages designed to grab attention and create awareness among target audiences. In the first phase in 2016, we used radio, print, billboards, display adverts, digital and social media, supported by outreach activities to deepen the communication and educate communities. In the current phase, we are using social media to extend the conversation to a much wider online audience. 

The campaign has been very successful in its first nine months, achieving 42 678 engagements on Facebook and 106 750 on Twitter. The website has received over 1.7 million hits from 60 000 unique visitors.  

Better off Knowing was showcased by Health Systems Trust at the South Africa AIDS Conference  held in Durban from 13- 15 June 2017 under the track 'Best Practices: Programmes, Communications and Community Engagement'.  

Follow the Better off Knowing Campaign on Twitter and visit the Better off Knowing Website for more information.
Innocent Nkata
Writer. Activist