Civil society reaches out to private sector as aid cuts are felt

The future of millions of Kenyans under HIV treatment looks uncertain, as international aid to combat the AIDS crisis plunges. In response, civil society organisations say Kenya should be increasing engagement with the private sector to bridge the funding gap.

In July, UNAIDS revealed in a report that donor funding for HIV and AIDS is at its lowest level in the last five years. In 2015, only US$ 8.1 billion were released compared to US$ 9.7 in 2013.

NGOs are concerned that Kenya’s elevation in World Bank ranking from a low to middle income economy means that crucial HIV treatment and care programmes are being overlooked as funding declines, despite need for these services remaining high in the country.

“Kenya is in a tricky situation if there is a freeze on AIDS funding because the disease burden is still high and the level of new infections is worrying,” argues Rahab Mwaniki, a programme officer at the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO).

According to Mwaniki, donors are feeling fatigued where some think that after so many years African governments should be able to take up responsibility for health funding, especially the HIV response.

“We have also received reports that donors claim the refugee flow into the European Union is putting a lot of pressure on their support for Africa and so governments should work with us to raise alternative funding for the poor,” says Mwaniki.

Figures from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics indicate that Kenya has been allocating an average of three per cent of the national budget to health, including in the latest 2015/16 financial year.

This is way below the 15 per cent that African governments committed to allocate to health during the 2001 Abuja declaration.

Private sector engagement

The private sector has been periodically called upon to raise its engagement in funding HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, but previous proposals by the National AIDS Control Council (NACC), including to raise funds through levies on phone airtime and flights on the national carrier, Kenya Airways, did not get off the ground as the state treasury said they would have to go through a Parliamentary process, according to NACC.

The Sustainable Development Goals Kenya Forum argues that support for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment must be seen in the context of achieving the cross-cutting SDGs that in turn are good for the national economy.

One of the Forum’s lead agencies, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), believes this is a feat that can be won if governments policed economic crimes like tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

“Collaboration with the private sector has previously been very difficult because they are happy investing in service delivery,” says Dinah Musindarwezo, executive director FEMNET. “We want to change the way they see development, that it is not just about economic growth but it is about advancing protection of all people’s rights.”

But can the private sector’s involvement in advocacy change the inequality gap in Africa and bridge the declining donor aid?

According to Musindarwezo, Africa’s next leap lies in rebranding its image as an investment frontier and not just a poor continent waiting for the donors’ financial aid.

To achieve this, she argues, governments will have to weed out corruption to stop the continent’s capital flight through tax evasion and abuse as well as illicit financial flows.

“In Africa, most of the resources are in the hands of very few people,” argues Musindarwezo. “The majority of people are left without resources and live in extreme poverty. They suffer from drivers of inequalities, including gender.”

However, the Civic Commission for Africa (CCA) says the continent’s governments are not doing enough to support social programmes in their countries.

“Africa has reached a point where governments need to manage their populations to be able to take care of them through income generated from national sources,” argues Maungo T. Mooki, CCA president.

Much hope is being placed on the Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD) to be held in Nairobi, 27-28 August, after Japanese delegates pledged to work with African civil society and continue to fund areas such as health, water and sanitation, women and youth, at a preparatory meeting in June.