2020/21 Fellows Update

March 11, 2022

The AVAC Advocacy Fellows Program, launched in 2009, fosters a network of deeply-informed, skilled and confident advocates to strengthen and expand advocacy for HIV prevention locally, regionally and globally. In the decade since its launch, 83 advocates from 14 countries in Africa and Asia have been through this program and have gone on to use their evidence-based advocacy to help accelerate ethical research and equitable access to HIV prevention options.

AVAC is tremendously proud of its 2020/2021 class of Fellows whose tenure in the program began during a time of great uncertainty in HIV prevention and in global health. Their tenacity, passion and unwavering commitment to bringing HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health options and choices that their communities want and need are central tenants to recalibrating global health equity.

Read on for more on their achievements and accomplishments as AVAC Fellows.

Josephine Aseme, Heartland Alliance, Nigeria
Josephine’s advocacy for PrEP rollout in key populations is exemplary; her accomplishments speak to her drive and grit. As an oral PrEP-taking sex worker and founder of Greater Women Initiative for Health and Rights, she has taken the helm, steering Nigeria’s key populations (KP) community to accelerate access to HIV prevention. She trained almost 300 KP champions across select districts in peer-to-peer PrEP education and charted an increase of 23,000+ PrEP referrals as a result.

She successfully worked with the Ministry of Health and her host Heartland Alliance to secure PrEP inclusion in the National Consolidated Service Delivery Guidelines on HIV and STIs for Key Populations, in Nigeria’s National HIV/AIDS Prevention Plan, and in Heartland Alliance’s Peer Educators’ Manual, a nationally recognized compendium. And, as a KP representative to PEPFAR’s country planning, she convinced her peers as well as implementers to add language on the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring and cabotegravir injectables to Nigeria’s country operating plan in 2021.

Chisomo Chaweza, MANERELA+, Malawi
As a KP ally, Chisomo strategically selected MANERELA+, a network of religious leaders, to host him through his Fellow project. This reflects Chisomo’s big-tent approach to advocacy, tapping into all the key sectors to push for accelerated PrEP rollout in key populations. Specifically, he rallied demand for the release of the long-overdue PrEP Guidelines—finally launched in September, 2021.

And when the MOH was not forthcoming with where to find PrEP dispensing sites, Chisomo rallied pressure on PEPFAR to reveal this information. He handled the media as an advocacy tool from both sides—engaging them to consistently and accurately cover HIV prevention and also developing his own blog, Liberty, and writing opinion pieces. He drafted a policy brief Making up for Lost Time: Increasing Access to PrEP and HIV Self-testing for Key Populations in Malawi, which continues to be employed as an advocacy tool today by others such as the incoming 2022 Fellow.

Mandisa Dukashe, Wits RHI, South Africa
During her Fellow’s project, Mandisa became a renowned face of U=U, after launching South Africa’s first treatment as prevention campaign in the Eastern Cape. And she’s well on her way to leading regional advocacy to popularize and formalize the uptake of U=U to promote treatment, adherence and viral load suppression as a way to destigmatize and sexually disinhibit people living with HIV.

Mandisa established alliances with UNAIDS, prominent political leaders and South Africa’s National AIDS Council and collaborated closely with the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society and Prevention Access Campaign to promote U=U. Her work culminated in the organizing of a U=U Satellite session at the SA AIDS Conference and in the formation of the U=U Africa Forum she co-founded with AVAC Fellow Alumni Kennedy Mupeli from Botswana. They continue to advocate for ministries of health to officially implement U=U.

Winifred Ikilai, The National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda
Wini was the first AVAC Fellow to integrate COVID into her advocacy targets and the pay-off was huge. She successfully engaged social media in spearheading a campaign to secure ARVs, food, hygiene packs and other services and supplies for 2,700 households in 115 districts under lockdown. Her advocacy earned her the 2021 Omololu Falobi Award for Excellence in HIV Prevention Research Community Advocacy while also garnering opportunities to collaborate with IAVI, aidsmap, Aljazeera and others.

What’s more, Wini won big gains for improved HIV treatment literacy and counseling through her creation of the Beyond My Pill Campaign. As part of her advocacy for improved treatment services, she organized a national level dialogue on test and treat, revitalizing the voices of PLHV networks and mobilizing for further PEPFAR spending. She won both recognition and funding to enhance treatment programs, reflected in Uganda’s National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2021/21–2024/25.

Joyce Ouma, National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya
Joyce methodically threaded her way through all relevant power centers to influence large-scale integration of SRH and HIV. First, she built a cadre of young women champions who contributed to her successful campaign to win Machakos county-level budget for SRH/HIV integration, and to win further national commitment from PEPFAR COP 21 and Global Fund 2021–2024.

She sat on Kenya’s national HIV/SRH integration working group where they spearheaded the one-stop-shop piloting in five counties. In the midst of Joyce’s Fellow project, the WHO green lighted the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring, so, naturally, Joyce co-convened a civil society taskforce to fast track its introduction. All the while, she penned two opinion pieces in Kenya’s national daily Star speaking of the continued need for a robust HIV prevention pipeline.

Esnart Sikazindu, Community Based TB/HIV AIDS Organisation (CBTO), Zambia
Esnart’s advocacy for differentiated PrEP services played out through social and traditional media. As Zambia moved PrEP out of ART clinics into more youth-friendly spaces, she saw an unfulfilled need to let young women know about PrEP and where to find it. Thus, she spread the word and built demand via social media.

She also took to the airwaves and print to let the general public know about PrEP as well as forthcoming HIV prevention like the PrEP ring and injectable. And not least, Esnart drafted a policy brief Too Little for Far Too Long: A Gap Analysis for Adolescent Girls and Young Women, which continues to be employed as an advocacy tool today.