By: Lunga Memela (Communication Engagement Lead)
The Mayor of eThekwini, Cllr Mxolisi Kaunda, was proud to launch the PEPFAR-funded DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) initiative which targets young and adolescent girls aged between 10 and 25, today at Amaoti and the greater Inanda township of Durban this World Health Day, 7 April 2021.
The Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu (INK) areas of eThekwini record the highest HIV statistics in KwaZulu-Natal, which is the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa. Of grave concern is that gender-based violence, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancies and HIV transmission is rife amongst the targeted young and adolescent girls, who continue to be abducted and engage in transactional sex with older men, and later spread the virus to young males of their age group. "The situation is dire and needs to be nipped in the bud," explained the mayor and other speakers, who said in unison that the time to act is NOW!
The Mayor urged the Department of Health to help improve the situation by reporting underage pregnancies to the police so that perpetrators can face the full might of the law.
Caption: "ENOUGH is ENOUGH," says the Mayor of eThekwini, Cllr Mxolisi Kaunda.
Kaunda stressed the need for community men's forums that can address all the gender-based and socio-economic ills that are knitting HIV transmission into the city's social fabric. He said, "We must fight against any stigma and continue to support those living with HIV and AIDS," adding that community structures and government will lend a useful hand in supporting initiatives such as the DREAMS programme.
Young girls from a variety of local schools attended the launch. As if it was not enough to be hosted by surprise programme director and popular Isibaya actress, Lerato Mvelase, in came Miss South Africa, Shudufhadzo Musida, who stayed for the duration of the programme and encouraged the girls to love themselves, to dream big, and to always protect their physical and mental wellness.
Caption: Miss South Africa, Shudufhadzo Musida, motivates the learners to DREAM BIG, to always love and protect themselves!
Also in attendance was Durban's Miss HIV Ambassador, Londeka Ngcongo. A plethora of strong female role models addressed the auditorium – all in absolute favour of the DREAMS programme. The learners also heard from dignitaries from the Departments of Health and Education.
The learners were given a chance to tell the Mayor about the constant challenges they face. These include being asked out, harassed and raped by older men. All they really ask is for their youth not to be taken away from them. They want to go to school, dream big and make it to university AIDS-free and without having being raped or ending up with unwanted pregnancies. Soon after they were led by the Mayor in pledging for a brighter future and steering away from experimenting with drugs and older men.
Caption: Isibaya actress, Lerato Mvelase, facilitates as the learners tell the Mayor about the constant challenges they face within the community.
Several entities collaborated to make the event a success. There was plenty of on-stage entertainment, the learners received food and sanitary packs. The Health Systems Trust felt privileged to support the eThekwini Mayor's Office and PEPFAR with the launch of DREAMS.
The DREAMS initiative is supported by the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Girl Effect.
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