Scaling up Effective Capacity Building Innovations for Sustainable HIV Response in Eastern and Southern Africa

Scaling up Effective Capacity Building Innovations for Sustainable HIV Response in Eastern and Southern Africa

News from the HIV Capacity Building Partners Summit in Nairobi, Kenya

Sub Saharan Africa still remains the unenviable epicenter of the global HIV and AIDS epidemic. Over the years, the region has witnessed intensified emergency efforts to expand access to HIV treatment, prevention, care and support. These efforts now call for renewed commitment to strengthen the requisite organizational capacity to plan, implement and sustain effective interventions.

This week, 225 government, donor, academic, civil society representatives, and People Living with HIV/AIDS, coming from 22 countries in Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa, are meeting in Nairobi to take stock of progress, achievements and lessons in HIV capacity building, share best practices and innovations, and also plan for future efforts to strengthen the organizational capacity of local implementers.

Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency, USAID, PEPFAR, and various indigenous regional partners, the inaugural HIV Capacity Building Partners Summit will not only raise the profile and visibility of organizational capacity building, but it will also assist local implementers to build consensus on a joint plan of action, and to secure a medium- to long-term policy and program action plan that will strengthen and streamline investments in HIV capacity building.

The summit agenda is rich and provocative. The keynote speaker and the first plenary panel, which included panelists from Southern Africa AIDS Trust, the Global Fund, USAID, and the AIDSTAR-Two Project, set the stage and recognized that capacity building is a fundamental component of not just HIV programs but also of development and aid effectiveness as outlined in the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, and a is key element in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The AIDSTAR-Two presentation focused on “Organizational Capacity Building Framework: a foundation for stronger, more sustainable HIV/AIDS programs, organizations and networks (PDF).”

It was also acknowledged that too many local organizations, donors and partner countries have tended to approach capacity building as mainly a technical process or as a transfer of knowledge, tools and methodologies from North to South. Adequate attention has not been given to the critical importance of country ownership and leadership, as well as the broader political and social-cultural context within which capacity building efforts take place.

As such, the evidence suggests that what is necessary is a fundamental change in capacity building practice and delivery that includes focusing on capacity building as an endogenous process. This will involve agreeing at organizational or country level on capacity building goals, establishing clear standards and indicators from the perspective of the beneficiaries. Professor Miriam Were, a leading HIV/AIDS and community health advocate who has received several global awards for her work, summed up the feelings of the delegates in the packed hall, when she said, “If you don’t see any positive changes at community level, then it’s not happening.” She was echoed by Dr. Nicholas Muraguri, Director of the National AIDS Control Program, Kenya who stressed, “Yes, we must put capacity building at the heart of the AIDS response, but we also must set standards for capacity building interventions. Otherwise, what we are doing in the name of capacity building is meaningless.”

While a great deal of work has been done in strengthening the organizational capacity of local implementers, the summit is highlighting the gaps and challenges in establishing a demand driven, context-specific and results focused capacity building agenda. Local implementers are continuing to grapple with the challenges of monitoring and measuring the outcomes of capacity building activities.

The summit is providing an excellent sharing and learning opportunity. This is happening via the panel presentations, concurrent break-out sessions, skill building workshops and “rapid fire” round table debates on topical subjects ranging from integrating gender into capacity building innovations to health worker sensitization on meeting the health care needs of men who have sex with men. The summit is also an important step in consolidating the emerging consensus that truly effective and sustainable capacity building is, in most cases, a long term process that requires a long-term horizon and a reliable commitment.

As Kelvin Storey, Executive Director, Regional AIDS Training Network and Summit Co-Chair aptly put it, “Business as usual is no longer tenable.” We can only hope that this summit is just the beginning of future dialogue and concrete actions on the way capacity building for local HIV/AIDS implementers is defined, operationalized and its impact measured.

Ummuro Adano is a Senior Technical Advisor, Capacity Building, for the AIDSTAR-Two Project