AIDS was devastating for Uganda in its early years, infecting up to 30 percent of the urban population. However, with a massive grassroots education and prevention campaign under strong political leadership, infection rates dropped to 5 percent by the end of the millennium. The nation’s broadly successful campaign was held up as a model for others to follow.
Despite this encouraging history, HIV/AIDS continued to threaten Uganda’s stability. Many organizations that formed in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the epidemic had become overstretched, lacking the sophisticated organization necessary to manage increasing funds from international donors and to implement programs. In 2001, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), a coalition of the five largest religious institutions in Uganda, was formed to bring some cohesion to the many activities. IRCU serves communities through its coordinated network of faith-based health units, nongovernmental organizations, and churches and mosques, all of which work together to provide services in HIV/AIDS outreach and treatment, education, and peace and reconciliation.
IRCU is just one organization that was targeted by USAID’s AIDS Capacity Enhancement project
, funded in part by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. ACE was a four-year project designed to build the capacities of select Ugandan institutions to improve program outcomes in HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment through improvements in organizational development, monitoring and evaluation, health management information systems, finance, and communications.
The project’s work with IRCU built on established strong partnerships between the U.S. government and faith-based organizations in Uganda, dating as far back as 1991. Working with IRCU staff, the project built management skills of the organization so it could effectively deliver grants to member organizations who serve their communities, often in isolated areas. As a result, the number and scope of IRCU-supported members grew tremendously, from an original 17 that primarily focused on care and treatment to 86 at project end that provide prevention, as well as services to orphans and vulnerable children. For example, thanks in part to the increased support from IRCU, Kiwoko Hospital in central Uganda began dispensing life-saving drugs to patients with AIDS and the Acholi Orphans Initiative started providing scholarships to orphans and other vulnerable children in northern Uganda so they could attend school.
Following installation of a state-of-the art financial systems package and training of staff in its use, IRCU is now able to manage its substantial grants to members, ensuring timely disbursements and smooth continuation of programs. To demonstrate the wide-ranging impact of its services, IRCU uses a consolidated management information system that allows it to gather data from members and analyze it for reporting and program realignment. Finally, capacity-building support enhanced IRCU’s ability to provide quality assurance of all programs and to improve the standards of services provided in the IRCU network.
ICRU Secretary-General Joseph Kitakule credits the project with helping the organization undergo important structural changes. “When (the project) came in to help, it was important that the roles and responsibilities of our governance organs be clearly spelled out. Before, the roles were confused — the board, the council of presidents, and the secretary-general did not have well-defined roles or know how they are supposed to relate to each other. So the governance policy ACE developed clarified these roles, and we now have a governance policy that is guiding all our governance operations at IRCU.”
Strengthened financial, reporting, and other management systems are enabling a network of organizations that were already doing life-saving work to provide more services, reach more people, and serve more effectively. This capacity not only improves their program today, but ensures their response to the AIDS crisis will continue well into the future.