HIV/AIDS hardest hit in NGO collapse

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While the general civil society may be suffering from poor funding and donor fatigue, it is the organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS that are bearing the brunt of the crisis. Staff Writer, ZOLANI KRAAI relates the fall of a once vibrant sector within NGOs

At the beginning of the 21st century, the HIV/AIDS NGO sector was vibrant and active, a critical contributor to the grassroots’ socio-economy.  It has since faded and only a few still anxiously wait for help from nowhere.

The intensity of the movement began in 1995 when the Botswana Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (BONEPWA+) was conceived. This was courtesy of the then AIDS/STD Unit that facilitated the support for capacity-building of the first batch of HIV positive activists such as David Ngele and Dipuo Bogatsu.

The likes of Helen Ditsebe-Mhone, who later formed the Coping Centre for People Living with HIV and AIDS (COCEPWA), were instrumental in the anti-AIDS and de-stigmatisation campaigns in Botswana.

In those years, issues of lack of accountability and transparency surfaced, as more international donors and government moved to strengthen and support the noble initiatives.

Then president, Festus Mogae, pioneered the voluntary testing and free antiretroviral drug therapy programmes, opening the door for more international donors who would partner with local NGOs, and engage in various anti-HIV programmes.

While monies were poured in and largely accounted, others were diverted and spent without shame, a situation worsened by poor monitoring, evaluation and reporting systems.

Increasingly, donors could not hide their displeasure with cases of diversion of funds, poor accounting systems and fragile governance.

Organisations such as the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations (BONASO) and BONEPWA encountered a series of public governance, leadership and accountability challenges.

Many of these organisations also suffered from founder’s syndrome, which has been described as “a difficulty faced by many organisations where one or more founders maintain disproportionate power and influence following the effective initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organisation and those involved in it”.

The syndrome led to the ineffectiveness and collapse of most of the HIV Sector NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs).

With the country’s classification as an upper middle economy in the early 1990s and donor fatigue of the 21st century, lack of funds only added to the managerial troubles within some HIV/AIDS NGOs.

In recent years, with government support and mediation, BONEPWA and BONASO have been restored to glory and are now regarded as the top two networks in Botswana dealing with HIV and AIDS support services.

However, the funding scarcity continues and the millions that come periodically from the Global Fund  - a Bill and Melinda Gates funded initiative – are highly anticipated locally.

Whenever the Global Fund invites proposals for funding from local HIV/AIDS NGOs complaints, challenges and criticisms often erupt, as organisations fight for the limited funding.

This year, the African Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Programme (ACHAP), acting as the principal recipient and re-tenderer of the Global Fund millions, found itself attacked from all sides after it awarded the $16.7 million (P189 million) on offer.

A total of 89 NGOs had responded to ACHAP’s call for proposals and only four received funding.

“We mostly concerned that all said and done the various instruments, undertakings and rules by the principal recipient (ACHAP), the committees involved in the processes for whatever good reasons they may have had … were not guided by the public interest and consequently deprive Botswana of the most opportunity to effectively fight the pandemics,” Molefhi Kamela, chairman of Selebi-Phikwe Civil Societies Forum wrote in protest.

He added that by disqualifying 96 percent of the applications, ACHAP had turned the matter into a “proposal writing competition” disregarding what is at stake.

And at stake, all NGOs agree, is the protection, betterment and upliftment of the lives of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

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