Monday, January 24, 2022

ACHAP future uncertain as Merck Foundation donor taps run dry

The African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACHAP) is on a period of resource mobilization as its main international donor’s taps run dry.

The Merck Foundation, which committed $30 million in 2011 to support ACHAP Botswana over five years, announced it will not be committing funds to the NGO after the end of this year. This was confirmed by the ACHAP chief executive officer, Dr. Jerome Mafeni on Monday.

This notwithstanding, the government has not immediately committed funds to allow the organization to continue with its existing programme. The end of donor funding may have far reaching implications not limited to ACHAP but the country’s readiness to roll out ARV and other HIV targeted interventions without the assistance of donor funds.

┬á“There is no firm commitment from the government in terms of funding. As you are aware this is an election year and many decisions will be deferred to next year. The biggest issue we have here is the Safe Male Circumcision project. The government made it clear it would not be in a position to absorb the Safe Male Circumcision staff.┬á We will be stopping the project at the end of August unless we receive funding before that,” said The CEO.

The Ministry of Health was not readily available to respond to The Telegraph enquiries on what sort of intervention can be expected from the government on the obtaining situation.

While the ACHAP CEO has not denied looming job cuts, he was optimistic his organization would receive funding from the Global Fund.

He revealed staff contracts are coming to an end by the end of August and can only be reviewed if there is immediate funding other than that which was made available by the Merck Foundation.

“ACHAP structured all its activities based on funding by the Merck Foundation. So at the moment we are mobilizing new resources. We have had consultations with staff and we are lucky that the staff did not panic,” said Mafeni without disclosing how many staff will be laid off. Having said that Mafeni was still optimistic that ACHAP would receive funding from the Global Fund – the sting in the tail being when such funding will come forthwith.

Anxiety prevails among some 150 staff members at ACHAP as the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) changes its operational model from that of a project office into a business entity which will result in right sizing.

How does ACHAP seek to generate income as a business entity?

“Management fees for safe male circumcision would be one way of generating income. ┬áWe would have training programmes where government and the corporate sector pay for our in-house expertise,” said Mafeni.

The Merck Foundation funding to ACHAP was expected to, among others, enable the NGO to build on its progress by positioning it as a successful country-led public-private partnership model, systematically transitioning the support of the ARV treatment program to the government of Botswana and supporting the scale up of safe male circumcision among HIV-negative males aged 15ÔÇô29 years. ┬á

It was also expected to assist in strengthening the National Tuberculosis (TB) Program in order to improve access to and utilization of integrated TB and HIV services in 2014.

The Merck Foundation and the Gates Foundation established ACHAP with a $106.5 million in donor money 14 years ago. Merck agreed to donate its antiretroviral (ARV) medicines STOCRIN┬« (efavirenz) and CRIXIVAN┬« (indinavir sulfate) to Botswana’s national ARV treatment program for the duration of the partnership. In November 2008, Merck expanded its donations to include ATRIPLA┬« (efavirenz 600mg/emtricitabine 200mg, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate 300 mg) and ISENTRESS┬« (raltegravir).

The Merck Foundation says while much progress has been made in Botswana, particularly in the areas of HIV treatment and the expansion of HIV counseling and testing services, much still needs to be done as part of a comprehensive, sustainable and successful response to the AIDS pandemic in the country.

It is widely recognized that if Botswana is to get ahead of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the focus must be on prevention. To this end, priorities for ACHAP have included the scaling-up of prevention efforts, addressing the needs of HIV patients co-infected with TB, improving the cost effectiveness of the Masa antiretroviral treatment program, and strengthening the capacity of local organizations to carry out a sustainable national response. The ultimate goal being for the efforts and programs ACHAP supports to become either self-sustaining or integrated into the efforts led by the government of Botswana.

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