This last summer I worked as a Policy Intern at Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria advocates for U.S. support and investment in the Global Fund and other health programs by engaging with U.S. policymakers, connecting with key stakeholders, and educating the broader community about improving global health. The COVID-19 pandemic presents serious threats to progress made in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria—specifically, analyses from Imperial College, UNAIDS, the Stop TB Partnership, WHO, and others suggest that the annual death tolls of these three diseases could nearly double due to consequences of COVID-19. As a result, Friends has shifted gears to directly recognize COVID-19 as a leading global health threat. Friends is actively involved in actions to mitigate the spread and effects of COVID-19 and is currently focused on boosting U.S. investment in a global response to the virus.
During my internship, I had the opportunity to engage in authoring a policy brief concerning how the key population of adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are disproportionately affected by disease outbreaks. The current COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing issues that females face in receiving adequate healthcare and causing them to be disadvantaged economically, socially, and physically. I participated in research and analysis on how pandemics— and disease in general —hinder women’s access to healthcare, economic security, and education. AGYW are a vulnerable population in all health matters and poor livelihood outcomes prevent women and young girls from reaching important steps of achievement towards empowerment and gender equality. The largest takeaway from this brief is that attention must be given and actions must be taken to ensure the needs of AGYW are addressed and centralized during responses to disease outbreaks. The policy recommendations include: 1) create a higher focus on addressing and changing gender norms 2) promote AGYW’s health as catalyst for economic empowerment 3) scale programs to support women’s voice and participation in decision-making roles 4) address AGYW’s needs (economic, social, health, education) in a holistic, intersectional approach and 5) ensure health programs and systems are not suddenly abandoned or reduced due to new needs of a community, such as responding to a pandemic. I strongly believe the health of AGYW must be a constant priority and even more so during the current COVID-19 pandemic.