LESOTHO: Need to improve local anti-AIDS capacity
MASERU, 4 February (PLUSNEWS) - A World Bank mission delving into Lesotho's humanitarian crisis was launched on Wednesday, with emphasis placed on building the capacity of local institutions to handle AIDS and help manage the country's drought-induced food shortages.
"There are a number of groups who want to work on HIV/AIDS, but fail because they cannot write compelling proposals, and who cannot yet be relied upon to see that results are reached," Julie McLaughlin, who co-heads the Bank's HIV/AIDS Capacity Building and Technical Assistance Project for Lesotho, told a meeting of stakeholders.
Thirty-one percent of adult Basotho are HIV-positive, according to official government figures. But the data is now two years old, and a senior Western diplomatic source told PlusNews that preliminary findings from a recent survey by the health ministry and UNAIDS indicated that currently 36 percent of the adult population was living with the virus.
Over the past five years, the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has awarded Lesotho US $29 million for AIDS-related programmes, and $5 million for tuberculosis prevention and mitigation efforts. This was grant financing, which required no repayment.
While Lesotho's health ministry had made strides in coming to grips with a disease, which was exacerbating the nation's acute food crisis by undermining agricultural production, the stakeholders meeting with the World Bank mission felt local NGOs and the private sector had more to contribute. Some 600,000 Basotho out of a national population of 2.2 million currently depend on emergency food relief from the World Food Programme.
"Capacity is very low. Lesotho's NGOs benefit from building around existing projects, like in-service training. It is very difficult for local NGOs and civil society to access funding. There's all this funding available, but they don't know how to get it," said Julian Forest of the development agency CARE in Lesotho.
US Ambassador to Lesotho Robert Loftis added: "When we go out of Lesotho, we are buying expertise, and we keep doing that again and again. But we lose the opportunity to build local capacity. Obviously, it is a lot cheaper to buy locally. After the Global Fund [grants] expire in 2005, we should try to have a local capacity in place to take over."
The goal of the World Bank's mission is to make recommendations to the government on providing local capacity to handle AIDS projects, in time for the government's next fiscal year, which commences in 2005.
The mission is a joint undertaking of various government ministries, along with the Global Fund's portfolio manager for Lesotho, UN agencies, and a major contributor to the country, Ireland's Development Cooperation. The mission will present its report to the World Bank board.
"Reporting, monitoring and evaluating projects is extremely important, and future funding depends on this. We need to establish a national monitoring and evaluation system," said McLaughlin. Such a system would enable NGOs and the private sector to prepare and implement projects, receive and account for funds, and monitor the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programmes.
On the task of combating AIDS in Lesotho, ambassador Loftis said: "If you listen on one level, you think the job is so great nothing can be done. But if you listen to it on the level I wish to listen, there are a lot of possibilities and a lot of commitment."