On the Frontlines

For Lindiwe Msimang and Felicity Basson, the days often start early—around 7 am or so. It often starts with a call from a girl or a family member in need of help. Here in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa—the needs for girls are many and urgent. The stark facts are these: South Africa is the country most affected by HIV in the world. Girls and young women in this country are the most affected population. And KZN is the district with the greatest burden of HIV in South Africa. Yet despite these realities, Lindiwe and Felicity face each day armed with the knowledge it takes to make a difference. As coordinators for PEPFAR and CDC’s Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) program – they oversee an ambitious effort to prevent HIV among girls and young women in this region. The program—the first of its kind—weaves together proven interventions—from clinical to educational—aimed at helping girls stay HIV-free.

For Msimang and Basson, no two days are the same. Some require going to schools and communities to enroll young girls in the program, working with partners to strengthen mentoring initiatives, launching campaigns, meeting with policymakers and visiting clinics and community centers in the farthest and most impoverished reaches of this rural district. The days often end late—around 10 pm or so. Fridays bleed into Saturdays, and Sundays—bringing new opportunities to reach more girls. But for these women, this is not a job, it’s a mission. “There is no one in our community that has not been affected by HIV,” says Msimang. “But every day, I get to help a young person take a positive step towards bettering their health, their family, and their community.” “I feel like I’ve found my passion,” echoes Basson. “When I see a girl that I am able to help, no matter how small it is—even if it’s just one person, it’s making a difference. What more could you ask for?”