Role of NGOs in Malaria Control

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and faith based organizations (FBOs) have traditionally played important roles in charitable and social welfare work both in their home countries and abroad.  For example, the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) makes a point of pairing NGOs with government entities in order to enhance technical capacity and financial accountability in implementing river blindness control efforts.  The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) encourages local CSO representation on national Central Coordinating Mechanisms to ensure that consumers have a voice in the planning and execution of grants.  The US President’s HIV/AIDS effort (PEPFAR) makes a point of involving CSOs, especially FBOs from both donor and recipient countries in program efforts.  A recent summit in Washington explored the ways civil society can contribute to malaria control efforts.

Two important questions need to be addressed concerning the criteria for NGO involvement in malaria control. First is the extent of expertise they bring to the situation – both technical expertise as well as cultural expertise. Secondly, one needs to address economies of scale – do NGOs have the capacity to reach large program coverage goals in an efficient manner?  Obviously the answer is that some do and some don’t.  Good intentions will not achieve RBM coverage goals of 80% (ITNs, IPTp and case management) by 2010.

I have asked colleagues for their experiences. Their views from around Africa on involving NGOs in health programming are summarized as follows:

  • Selection of NGO partners based on their faith-based status, as opposed to their performance, capacity, and ability to deliver quality services and technical assistance, is costly and delays results.
  • New NGO partners often require significant investments in building their capacity before they can be expected to deliver results.
  • Choice of such partners in Washington, Geneva or London makes it extremely difficult to engage local/national partners in any kind of dialogue or joint planning.
  • A double standard is often applied in terms of demanding results from FBOs versus other development agencies.
  • Experienced health-oriented FBOs do exist in the field and have worked for years without a political agenda, making them more acceptable in the countries where they are based than those imposed from the outside.
  • Involvement of CSOs and FBOs does work if they are strengthened under the wing of an experienced international development agency.

Faith in this case therefore should not be “faith that donors will fund our organization”, but “faith that our organization can deliver the services that will save the lives of mothers and children.”

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