Young woman smiling in front of DREAMS sign (© Francesco Rossi/Pivion/Johnson & Johnson)
Young women educate their communities about HIV prevention through a U.S.-backed initiative called DREAMS. Here, Ntokozo Zakwe represents DREAMS at the 2016 International AIDS Conference. (© Francesco Rossi/Pivion/Johnson & Johnson)

How will the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) end the global HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030?

Announced by President Trump in his 2019 State of the Union address, this ambitious goal is not out of reach, according to Ambassador Deborah Birx, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator and special representative for global health diplomacy.

“We know what needs to be done. We have every piece of evidence that we need to combat this epidemic,” she said at Zola Community Health Clinic in Soweto, South Africa, outside of Johannesburg.

Birx was there on March 16 with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and participants of Zola’s PEPFAR-funded HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs.

They met a number of DREAMS ambassadors, young women trained to talk to friends and family about getting tested for HIV and staying HIV-free. In sub-Saharan Africa, 3 out of 4 new cases among adolescents are teenage girls, according to UNAIDS.

Woman speaking to a group of young people and State Department dignitaries gathered in horseshoe seating (U.S. Embassy South Africa)
Deputy Secretary John Sullivan (seated center, second from right) and Ambassador Deborah Birx (seated center, second from left) listen to a presentation at Zola Community Health Clinic in Soweto, South Africa. (U.S. Embassy South Africa)

“It’s about empowering young women, protecting them, also ensuring young men are protected through our voluntary male circumcision program, and then, of course, our treatment programs,” Birx said.

DREAMS is an acronym for the type of women the program hopes to develop: determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored and safe. The partnership is led by PEPFAR and implemented by U.S. and international nongovernmental organizations. It has reached millions of adolescent girls and young women since its launch in 2014.

Sharing a platform with the DREAMS ambassadors, Deputy Secretary Sullivan said, “We’ve invested $6 billion here in South Africa in young people like the young women behind us, and it’s a magnificent use of U.S. taxpayer funds.”

Zola Clinic opened in 2011 and became one of the first in the area to offer voluntary medical male circumcision, a procedure shown to reduce the risk of HIV acquisition among men who receive it by 60 percent. At that time, South Africa was home to 14 percent of the world’s HIV-positive population. Since then, the rate of new HIV infections in South Africa has declined by 25 percent and the number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped by more than one-third.

“South Africans need to rise up and get tested,” said Birx. “They’re at risk and they need to be tested, because we have a solution.”

Check out some of PEPFAR’s successes (data is as of November 2018):

Infographic showing top PEPFAR successes since 2003 (State Dept.)