How the Covid-19 Crisis Heightens HIV Risk for Adolescent Girls and Young Women

Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are at substantially higher risk of contracting HIV than their male peers, with data showing that they are from 2 to 14 times more likely to be infected. This disproportionate impact is driven by a range of factors, including AGYW’s lack of economic empowerment and educational opportunities, widespread gender-based violence, and limited access to reproductive health information and services. The risks AGYW face are put in stark relief by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is further exacerbating their vulnerabilities and is already undermining important progress in HIV prevention.

Over the last five years, the U.S. government and other public and private partners have intensified efforts to prevent new HIV infections among AGYW. In late 2014, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) launched the DREAMS partnership (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe). Using a multisectoral approach, DREAMS works to address the factors that put AGYW at risk, thereby reducing HIV infections and contributing to epidemic control. Many experts now see that the Covid-19 pandemic threatens DREAMS’s momentum and achievements.

In this series of short videos and podcasts, the CSIS GHPC team speaks to experts, program implementers, and adolescent girls and young women themselves on the ground in Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia. Through their insights and reflections, we can better understand the progress that has been made to date for AGYW, the remaining gaps and challenges, and the rising threats posed by Covid-19.

This work is made possible by generous support from ViiV Healthcare. 


Janet Fleischman
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Global Health Policy Center


Time to Step Up: Prioritizing Health and Empowerment for Women and Girls

May 10, 2021

Now is the time for global and national leaders to step up and prioritize the health and development needs of adolescent girls and young women in policy and funding. In sub-Saharan Africa, the devastating impact of the Covid-19 crisis has heightened the risks that adolescent girls and young women face of HIV and gender-based violence, and has undermined their access to education, sexual and reproductive health, and economic empowerment. This crisis demands that we follow the lead of women and girls on the ground, share global resources with them, and allow adolescent girls and young women to take the microphone and further this agenda. This video highlights the urgency of stepping up for women and girls to address these challenges through three powerful voices: Mrs. Monica Geingos, the First Lady of the Republic of Namibia; Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA; and Vilepi Banda, a 17-year-old DREAMS ambassador in Lusaka, Zambia.

A Year Like No Other: Covid’s Threat to Education for Girls

Mar 24, 2021

Covid-19 is threatening education for girls and could reverse decades of health and development progress for girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. Education for girls, especially secondary education, is critical to prevent HIV, as well as early marriage, unintended pregnancy, and gender-based violence, while promoting empowerment and economic independence. To understand the impact of Covid-19 on education for girls, and the serious challenges girls are facing in returning to school after the Covid-19 lockdowns, we bring you three critical perspectives: Dr. Shannon Hader, UNAIDS deputy director of programme; Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya, founder and president of Kakenya’s Dream, which runs schools for girls in rural Kenya; and Chipego Kalumbi, a 17-year-old student and participant in PEPFAR’s DREAMS’s program in Lusaka, Zambia.

DREAMS and Covid-19 in Zambia

July 28, 2020

Covid-19 is taking a heavy toll on adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa, exacerbating their risks of HIV, gender-based violence, and unintended pregnancy. To understand these intersecting crises, we spoke to women working with and benefiting from the U.S.-led DREAMS initiative in Lusaka, Zambia: Batuke Walusiku-Mwewa is the Zambia Country Director for Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB); Grace Njobvu and Grace Nachila are DREAMS participants. DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) is a public-private partnership that aims to reduce new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in 15 countries through a multisectoral package of services.

Parallel Epidemics: Covid-19 and Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

July 7, 2020

South Africa, which has the largest HIV epidemic in the world and one of the highest rates of gender-based violence, is now experiencing a worsening COVID-19 epidemic. Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and a leading global expert on HIV/AIDS, spoke to CSIS about the particularly negative impact of Covid-19 on adolescent girls and young women, and how it is fueling a parallel epidemic of gender-based violence. At a time when even the President of South Africa has condemned the violence against women during the COVID-19 crisis, Professor Abdool Karim calls for a proactive response to these twin crises.