Revival of the Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations (BONASO) from a three-year hiatus is stirring hope among disgruntled affiliates that Botswana’s response to the HIV/AIDS scourge can remain on track.
Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Dr Gloria Somolekae, told a BONASO annual general meeting this week that the organization needed renewal.
BONASO is emerging from a lull that had left AIDS service organisations in a tangle.
Appealing for a more vigorous organization with a robust governance system, Somolekae stressed the importance of a focused and coordinated response to the scourge.
“I trust BONASO is up for the challenge and that you will do all you can to accelerate and refocus the fight against HIV and AIDS,” she said.
Launching into the cross-cutting challenges that have crippled the national response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, she said NGOs must step up their game. “There is need to ensure prevention programmes are more effective,” she said.
On a positive note, she said in the 12 years since government went to war on AIDS, statistics on infections and deaths have become less grim. From around 16,000 deaths in 2003, the toll has dropped to around 4,000. Over the same period, mother to child transmission has also dropped to 2-4 percent from a high of 40 percent.
“There is cause for optimism in terms of the rates at which prevalence rates have been declining,” Somolokae said.
From an alarming 32 percent in 1995, the prevalence rate for the youth had by last year dropped to 10 percent.
However, despite all these pointers, Somolakae cautioned about the need to do more because the picture is still yet rosy. “The 4,000 deaths per year are still too many,” she said.
Also, some 2.45 percent of children are born with the virus ÔÇô a number that she said is still high.
Examining the capacity of BONASO’s affiliates to deliver, she said many are not structurally sound, lack administrative and financial procedures and are unable to effectively monitor and evaluate.
After Botswana became a middle income country, donor flight left many NGOs on their knees, unable to develop fundraising skills and plot relevant strategies.
As if that was not enough, a glut of NGOs stepping onto each other’s turfs and duplicating efforts unhinged the national response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Amid this, a feeble BONASO caved in, leaving affiliates disgruntled.
Dorothy Tlagae, Country representative for PCI, underscored the minister’s comments by prodding AIDS service organisations to be proactive as opposed to reactive in their response. Many struggle with issues of strategy and management by crisis.
Oscar Motsumi, BONASO’s Executive Secretary, gave a stirring, emotive pep talk about the crafting of a new vision for the organization and civil society. He echoed the need for a concerted effort, as opposed to a civil society that speaks with different voices, especially at the National AIDS Council.
“As civil society, we need to feed into the national response,” he said, adding that umbrella bodies and affiliates should avoid focus on non-niche areas and avoid being tied to projects.
He acknowledged the need for a capacity assessment among BONASO’s affiliates, the need for institutional building, targeting effectiveness “so that we can put our money where our mouth is”.
BONSASO held its last AGM in 2009.