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Archives for Women

USAID Commends Major Advance in HIV Prevention Research

Results released today from the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Initiative (iPrEx) study confirmed that daily oral use of a combination antiretroviral (ARV), Truvada, reduced the risk of HIV infection by 44 percent among men who have sex with men. This historic iPrEx trial provides the first proof of concept that oral PrEP of an ARV can prevent HIV transmission.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) congratulates the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology-UCSF, and most importantly, the 2,499 pioneering participants who volunteered for this important clinical trial on the promising results from iPrEx.  Global iPrEx is the first large efficacy study to evaluate the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in men who have sex with men in Africa, Asia, and North and South America.

These promising results also encourage other research partners to continue working on more PrEP and microbicide options which may lead to new tools for HIV prevention.  The AIDS pandemic calls for a dynamic variety of HIV prevention methods to ensure those at risk have choices to use the one that best suits the needs of their lifestyle.

According to new UNAIDS estimates, women worldwide account for more than half of all HIV infections, and in sub-Saharan Africa continue to bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic, USAID will continue critical research and development work in PrEP for women at high risk.  The FemPrEP clinical trial—led by FHI with support from USAID—is designed to test the safety and effectiveness of a daily dose of Truvada for HIV prevention.  Close to 4,000 HIV-negative women who are at higher risk of HIV are being enrolled in five sites in four countries: Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe; results are expected 2012.

Based on the positive results from the CAPRISA 004 trial which were released in July, USAID will continue to support the regulatory approval of 1% tenofovir gel after further confirmation of its effectiveness.  USAID is committed to ensuring the launch of a new generation of products designed expressly for women and capable of preventing the transmission of HIV.

Finding a woman-controlled method of prevention is critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  In line with President Obama’s Global Health Initiative, USAID is committed to focusing on the needs of women and girls in its health programming worldwide.

USAID continues to build on a solid foundation of robust science and new technologies, enabling innovation to redefine and strengthen U.S. development assistance globally.

Democratic Republic of Congo Joins Malaria Initiative

On Tuesday, November 16th, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) became the 16th focus country of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and one of the most important. DRC is the second largest and third most populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 95 percent of the population – some 69 million people – live in malaria endemic areas and suffer nearly 30 million cases of this treatable and preventable disease. Malaria accounts for nearly half of the deaths of the 620,000 children in DRC who die before their fifth birthday.

The launch of PMI was held in Mbuji Mayi, capital city of East Kasai. Admiral Timothy Ziemer, U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator, U.S. Ambassador to DRC James Entwistle, and USAID Mission Director Stephen Haykin joined thousands of Congolese for the public launch of the program, which included distributing long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) and preventive malaria treatment to pregnant women. Next year, PMI will procure 2 million LLINs to support the universal coverage strategy in Katanga Province, which is part of the National Malaria Control Program’s (NMCP) five-year strategic plan for universal coverage. PMI will procure another 645,000 LLINs for routine distribution in 112 health zones in the four provinces where USAID works, which will be part of the NMCP’s distribution plan for 2009-2014.

With its large population, geographic size, and heavy burden of malaria, the DRC presents a major challenge to reducing morbidity and mortality attributable to malaria in Africa. As with other PMI focus countries, the goal of PMI in the DRC will be to expand malaria control efforts to reach large areas of the country, achieving a 50 percent reduction in malaria burden by targeting those most vulnerable to malaria – children under the age of five and pregnant women. PMI will work with the NMCP to provide LLINs and antimalarial drugs, help strengthen health systems, and integrate malaria control and prevention activities with other health programs in 112 health zones in the four target provinces. PMI will also help identify and fill gaps in other malaria interventions in close collaboration with other partners, including donors, civil society organizations, faith-based groups, and the private sector.

Malaria prevention and treatment is a core component of the U.S. Government’s development policy and the Administration’s Global Health Initiative (GHI). Rather than attack diseases individually, GHI focuses on tying health programs together, creating an integrated and coordinated system of care. For example, PMI is expanding efforts to support health systems strengthening and to integrate with USAID’s maternal and child health (MCH) programs and the President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Given that malaria control is essentially a maternal and child health program, PMI has been working to ensure that all its activities at the health facility level are integrated with the MCH program.

The Global Health Initiative and the President’s Malaria Initiative share a common focus on women — improving their health status benefits women, as well as their families and communities. By expanding women’s access to care, increasing the focus on women’s health outcomes, and incorporating women’s perspectives into health systems, the GHI and PMI will impact women, their children, and their families.

The United States Government has supported malaria control in DRC during the past 10 years as a key component of the health program supported by USAID in almost half of the country, including Katanga, South Kivu and East and West Kasai provinces. During the past two years, the DRC has conducted mass distribution of LLINs in Kinshasa, Equateur, Orientale and Maniema provinces. Similar campaigns are planned in Katanga and East and West Kasai in the near future. These life-saving bed nets are also being provided for routine distribution through antenatal and child health clinics. As a result of these programs, since 2008, nearly 30 million LLINS have been brought into the country by the government of the DRC and the donor community.

Women’s Garden Reopens in Kabul

This originally appeared on Dipnote.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry joined senior Afghan officials, including the Minister of Women’s Affairs, the Mayor of Kabul, the Governor of Kabul province, and members of parliament, to celebrate the reopening of the Women’s Garden in Kabul on November 3, 2010.

The garden, once a sanctuary, was destroyed during the Afghan civil war. During the paralyzing restrictions of the Taliban era, women and girls were unable to enter the park, and it became a garbage dump.

Now that the historic Women’s Garden has reopened its doors, the eight-acre enclosure provides the women of Kabul a safe space to participate in a range of recreational and educational activities. The garden hosts gym and sports classes, vocational training, literacy classes, and serves as a place to socialize. It is also home to the provincial Directorate of Women’s Affairs.

The reconstruction project was led and implemented by the Director of Women’s Affairs, Ms. Karima Salik, who had played in the garden as a young girl before it was destroyed. The Women’s Garden was rehabilitated through USAID’s Food Insecurity Response for Urban Populations (FIRUP) and the Local Governance and Community Development (LGCD) programs, with CARE International acting as the implementing partner for FIRUP, and DAI as the implementer for LGCD. Fifty percent of the laborers who rebuilt the garden were women.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Dr. Husnbanu Ghazanfar, Minister of Women’s Affairs said, “Over the last 30 years this garden turned into a ruin but with the assistance of the U.S. government and other international donors, the garden has a new life now. More than ever, it is both a place to relax and to learn.”

Acknowledging the dedicated work and leadership of Ms. Salik, and the tremendous efforts of Minister Ghazanfar, Governor Zabihullah Mujadadi, Mayor Mohammad Yunus Nawandish, and the entire Provincial Development Committee for their efforts to advance the rights of women, Ambassador Eikenberry noted, “Today marks a new day — and the hope that Afghan women can again have a garden of their own in Kabul. While this Garden heralds the strength of Afghan women, it is my hope that it will also be seen as a symbol of the United States government’s — and, for that matter, the whole international community’s — support for a lasting friendship and partnership with all Afghans.”

Midwives from Afghanistan Gather for Capacity Building Training in Alexandria, Egypt

On October 21, USAID/Egypt Director James Bever and Dr. Hassan Sallam, Director of the Suzanne Mubarak Regional Center for Women’s Health and Development (SMC) participated in the graduation ceremony of a mix of 31 Afghan Midwives of various ages and from various provinces. The Midwives attended the training program at the SMC in Alexandria and it was funded through the Health Services Support Project, implemented by USAID/Afghanistan.

Afghan midwives with their Egyptian trainer at the end of the USAID/Afghanistan funded capacity building training held in Egypt. Photo Credit: USAID/Egypt

Afghan midwives with their Egyptian trainer at the end of the USAID/Afghanistan funded capacity building training held in Egypt. Photo Credit: USAID/Egypt

The SMC was selected as a training provider for its excellent results in the areas of women’s health and development in Egypt and in neighboring countries. The SMC is the lead partner organization for the USAID/Egypt funded Global Initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness. The training focused on the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to provide care to Afghani women with the ultimate goal of ensuring safe motherhood.

In his remarks during the event, the USAID/Egypt Director lauded Egypt as it has achieved its Millennium Development Goal Number 4 of reducing the under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015 and it is approaching the achievement of MDG 5 in reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015.  “Egypt is now leveraging those achievements by hosting training programs like these where our Egyptian counterparts can share valuable lessons learned and effective practices with efficient health practitioners from Afghanistan to improve health not only in Egypt, but around the world.”

Ethiopia Partners with the U.S. to Put Girls’ Education First

First Lady Azeb Mesfin has been steadfast in her determination to collaborate with USAID on the award of scholarships to meritorious girls who would otherwise have to drop out of school. So it gives me great pleasure to participate in the signing of this agreement on behalf of the American people, to provide FreAddis the means to benefit over 1,000 female students.

USAID Ethiopia Mission Director Thomas Staal, First Lady Azeb Mesfin, and US Ambassador Donald Booth participate in an event sponsored by FreAddis. Photo credit: USAID

Education is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and all its trappings: hunger, disease, resource degradation, exploitation, and despair. Women are the caretakers and economic catalysts in our communities. No country can afford to ignore their potential. We all know women whose lives were transformed through education and who in turn transformed the lives of those around them.

I am pleased to welcome FreAddis as our newest partner in the education sector where we are working with the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of teaching and classroom materials for the greatly expanded numbers of children in primary schools all over the country. FreAddis hopes to eventually expand its reach and support to girls nationwide through funds donated by Ethiopians here and throughout the Diaspora.

In the future we hope to collaborate with more local institutions enabling them to carry out their missions and to make best use of the opportunities provided by the U.S. Government.

Maternal Health Matters to Everyone

The maternal mortality rate in northern Nigeria is one of the highest in the world. In Bauchi State, women bear an average of eight children in their lifetimes, yet only 45 percent of them receive prenatal care. Less than 1 percent of Bauchi’s children under age one are fully immunized. Bauchi is one of the last places where the wild polio virus is still a threat. And the average person living in Bauchi experiences two malaria episodes a year—with pregnant women and small children affected the most.

Traditonal and religious leaders in Bauchi State meet with officials to explore how leaders can work with government to improve community health care. Photo Credit: USAID/ Nigeria

Overcoming the extraordinary health challenges for women and children requires commitment and partnership at all levels, particularly with traditional and religious leaders, who can use their trust and authority to change health behavior.

USAID’s Targeted States High Impact Project (TSHIP), a five-year maternal, child, reproductive health and family planning initiative, is engaging traditional and religious leaders to change community behaviors and perceptions about health care. TSHIP strengthens community-based organizations, making them more responsive to the basic health requirements of members of their communities, especially women and children. TSHIP collaborated with the Bauchi government to host a two-day meeting to enable these leaders to discuss with health officials how they can improve health outcomes in their communities. The group explored issues such as the health status of girls and women, birth spacing options, and the importance of children receiving immunizations on schedule.

Change is never quick or easy; but because traditional and religious leaders have longstanding relationships with their communities based on trust, they are in a strong position to help overcome the cultural barriers preventing health-seeking behavior.

Traditional and religious leaders are now engaged in improving community health through advocacy. Interestingly, the meeting also illuminated that the concept of safe motherhood is entrenched in Islamic tradition that states that the shortest period between the births of two babies should be two years, and women are advised to breastfeed for two years. This changed many attendees’ perceptions, and leaders acknowledged that women should be empowered to seek medical services when needed.

Nigeria @ 50: Microenterprises Support Caregiver Families

Like many caregivers in Kano, northern Nigeria, Jamila is responsible for raising her children and caring for relatives affected by HIV/AIDS. Previously, she relied on her husband or other sources for financial support. After her husband lost his job, and with six people in her household, Jamila had to find a means to provide for her family financially.

Jamila and her husband display their peanut butter. Business skills training has empowered many women caregivers to engage in effective business practices. Photo Credit: Fernando Maldonado, USAID/MARKETS

In 2009, Jamila joined about 90 other caregivers from Bauchi, Kano, and Cross River States to attend the MicroEnterprise Fundamentals™ training course offered by USAID through its Maximizing Agricultural Revenue and Key Enterprises in Targeted Sites project. This training equips participants with practical business skills to become successful entrepreneurs.

After the course, Jamila combined her modest savings with a small loan from a community savings and loan group to finance her business. Within a couple of weeks she was able to generate a healthy profit and contribute to her household’s upkeep.

“The most important learning I took from the training was how to plan my business. I now allocate my income between business expenses, personal expenses, and savings,” said Jamila.

Jamila is currently expanding her business. As a result of training on product differentiation, Jamila adds spices to her peanut butter, which she packs in attractive containers. Demand for her product has increased. She has even gained the confidence and financial resources to start a poultry business.

“I am now the main contributor to my household and we make up to $200 in profit each month.”

Like Jamila, many caregivers are reaping the benefits of the USAID training. A recent survey of caregivers trained in 2009 showed that over 50 percent started new businesses, and nearly 100 percent of the respondents reported an increase in income.

Repairing Obstetric Fistula in Nigeria

USAID-supported fistula services in Nigeria began in 2007. USAID’s Fistula Care project works with six hospitals to prevent and repair fistula and/or to train health professionals about fistula case management.

Obstetric fistula is the result of prolonged labor without prompt medical intervention, causing a hole in a woman’s birth canal which leaves her with chronic incontinence and in many cases, the loss of the baby.

Thirty-two-year-old Joy Emmanuel lived with fistula for half of her life. Long after giving up hope of a remedy, she heard on the radio that women could receive fistula surgery at the Faridat Yakubu Fistula Center, in Gusau, Nigeria. Emmanuel’s baby survived, but she was left with the serious medical condition. Women with fistula are stigmatized among their peers and by society in general.

USAID is supporting increased access to quality family planning and reproductive health services. Maternal and child health efforts focus on birth preparedness, maternity services, and obstetric fistula repairs.

The Nigerian National Strategic Framework for fistula prevention and control estimates that between 400,000 and 800,000 women are affected. Nearly half of worldwide fistula cases occur in Nigeria, with between 50,000 to 100,000 new cases each year. USAID is working to address the challenge of obstetric fistula in five states in northwestern Nigeria. During the project’s first three years 2,822 women received fistula repair surgery.

African First Ladies Fellowship to Strengthen Leadership on Health and Social Ills

Today I participated in the first RAND African First Ladies Fellowship Program workshop, hosted in partnership with American University.  The fellowship program, together with Women’s Campaign International, is working to strengthen the capacity of Africa’s first ladies and their offices to address health and social problems across Africa.

Participants include chiefs of staff and other advisers to first ladies from Angola, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia.

Over a two-year period, first ladies and fellows will develop and implement a plan to address one of their nation’s top challenges, such as maternal and child health, women’s issues or education.

Drawing on experience with the African Leaders Malaria Alliance where 26 African Heads of State are positioning their countries to achieve universal net coverage and save millions of lives, I discussed the import policy and advocacy role first ladies can influence with focused participation. While not having statutory authority, African first ladies can raise the profile, funding and country commitment of key areas like improving the health status of women and removing barriers that could prevent women from accessing life-saving health services that are particular to women, such as assisted deliveries for her or her children and family planning for healthy timing and spacing of births.

During the four-day workshop, other presenters included Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues; Jocelyn Frye, deputy assistant to President Obama for domestic policy and director of policy and projects for First Lady Michelle Obama; Anita McBride, chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush from 2005 to 2009 and currently executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs; and Marjorie Margolies, president and founder of Women’s Campaign International.

Full Circle in Panama

When leaders from Panama’s Ella Drua community, Carlos Gil and Isabel Carpio Chami, came all the way to the USAID office in Panama City, we could hardly contain our surprise. They had traveled here to thank us for a project we had recently completed in their community. In tow, they carried a giant hand-woven basket that took five women nearly a year to finish. The fact that they had left their quiet secluded village in the jungle to come into the bustling city truly moved us. Yet ultimately it made us realize there was something remarkably appropriate about the occasion.

Amidst the daily routines that we at USAID have all grown accustomed to, from our desks behind the mountains of work, we sometimes fail to keep in mind the most important results of our work: the benefits that the men, women, and children receive as a result of our long hours. By losing sight of this, it’s also possible to lose the driving inspiration necessary to keep doing what we do.

Community women of Ella Drua. Photo Credit: Fernando Alvarez/USAID

So what we found so striking about this unexpected visit was how it managed to bring everything back full circle. While at one time we at USAID/Panama had reached out to lend a hand to the men, women, and children of Ella Drua, they had now come here to lend a hand to us. To remind us why we do what we do. And whether or not they had intended to do so, by bringing this gift of thanks they put a strong gust of wind into our sails.

As part of a long-term program in Panama Canal Watershed— which not only ensures the wellbeing and smooth operation of the Panama Canal, but also provides the water supply for half of the country’s population— USAID/Panama administered a small grant to the people of Ella Drua to support activities to benefit the area.

The community of Ella Drua, home to an indigenous group called the Emberá-Wounnan, used the grant to support an eco/ethno-tourism project that will give enterprises an alternative to activities such as slash-and-burn agriculture that inflict harm on the watershed.

“Before, the community really didn’t have many sources of income other than small agriculture,” Emberá regional leader Carlos Gil explained in Spanish, a language he speaks in addition to his mother tongue, Emberá. “Now we can care for our local environment and at the same time provide a sustainable future for our children.”

The project also had other positive effects. We saw community women empowered by their new entrepreneurial roles, and we saw youth begin to take pride in their traditional culture. Ella Drua leaders are now planning on sharing their experiences with other communities in the Darién region, which borders Columbia, especially those in which youth are at risk of drug-trafficking.

When we were invited to come to the inauguration of the eco-lodge they had built using the USAID grant money, of course we gladly accepted.

Although it’s only a ten minute boat ride from the main road, the community of Ella Drua is a world away. We arrived at the dock and were greeted by several women wearing vibrant floral skirts, traditional tops fashioned of hundreds of threaded tiny dried seeds called Lágrimas de San Pedro (Tears of Saint Peter), and headbands adorned with hibiscus flowers.

They led us to the Tambo (central pavilion) where they performed traditional music and dances, and gave ceremonial speeches detailing historical accounts of the events that led up to this day. After several more songs, and with music still playing, they led us in a procession from the pavilion to the eco-lodge, where the inauguration ceremony began.

The ceremony is performed for all new structures to ensure that it remains sturdy and will never fall. The men play music with flutes and drums, while the women dance in single file from post to post and bless it as they circle around it.

Through the day, and over a delicious lunch of chicken and patacones (fried platanos) served in rolled up banana leaves, community members continued to thank us for our support. However, it was clear that on this particular day, it was we who were truly thankful.

Resources:

  • Watch a short clip of the inauguration of the USAID-sponsored eco/ethno-tourism project
  • Read more about this project in USAID’s FrontLines magazine
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