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African NGO’S Unite To Speak With One Voice On AIDS

The slogan for World AIDS Day this year was “Stop AIDS: Keep The Promise” – a call for accountability by the institutions that have pledged money and effort to help end the spread of the illness around the world.

A group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in sub-Saharan Africa have come together to better keep their own promise of fighting for the rights of Africa’s nearly 25 million people estimated to carry HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

The group, called the Civil Society Coalition against HIV and AIDS in Africa, is committed to representing Africa on the state level, continent-wide level, and in international gatherings. It’s based in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, at the headquarters of one of its members, Journalists Against AIDS (

Ronald Kayanja is a member of the coalition’s steering committee and the director of the PANOS Global Aids Program in Lusaka, Zambia ( “We don’t want [the Civil Society Coalition] to be a very formal organization,” he said. “It is a loose coalition which comes together around issues [for which] we [as African civil society organizations should speak]…with one voice.” Among its better-known members are the African Council of Aids Service Organizations, the African Open Society Institute of Southern Africa and Eastern Africa, Action Aid International, and a number of national civil society organizations.

Among the coalition’s main goals is to encourage governments and international bodies to set a target date for the delivery of universal access to preventive treatment and health care for those with HIV/AIDS. (He says for example, in Zambia, only 60 thousand of an estimated 200 thousand people needing treatment are currently receiving it. The situation is similar in other African countries.)

“We want 80 percent coverage (by 2010 for) voluntary counseling and testing, (for) treatment by all people who need it…(and) for treatment (to prevent) mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS. We want the African governments to set the targets at the national level consistent with the targets set (at a meeting of Africa leaders in) Abuja (Nigeria) this year,” Kayanja said. “So if you (publicly announce you’ll set a target of) 80 percent in Abuja, you don’t come (home) and say 60 percent. That is not acceptable.”

Kayanja said African NGOs, especially those at the state and local level, are often more accountable than international NGOs to the people they serve. On the other hand, he said international NGOs are accountable to their donors or countries that fund them, but not always to people on the ground.

He says the same could happen to the Civil Society Coalition against HIV and AIDS unless governments and the media help hold the group accountable. “NGOs have been at the forefront of trying to make sure that governments are held accountable for the promises that they’ve made. There are good ways of holding governments accountable, even within governments there are checks and balances. But it’s difficult to find ways to keep NGOs in check. That does not mean they are not accountable – they are to their donors, but it is difficult with thousands of NGOs working on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Who is monitoring to see that they are doing their work well?”

UNAIDS says there are an estimated 38 million people infected with HIV in the world, with more than 24 million of them living in sub-Saharan Africa.

It says that some two million people died of AIDS in the region in 2005, compared to approximately 1.9 million in 2003. The number of AIDS orphans increased from an estimated 10.2 million to an estimated 12 million.

UNAIDS considers Southern Africa, where Kayanja lives, as the epicenter of the epidemic by UNAIDS. Almost one in three people infected with HIV globally live in the region. Lesotho, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have among the highest prevalence rates in the world, with more 20 percent of those between 15 and 45 years of age infected.

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