Dr. Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye-Donton, Chief Executive Officer, West Africa AIDS Foundation
Maggie McCarten-Gibbs, Senior Technical Officer, FHI 360

After losing his first son to sickle cell disease at the age of seven, Eddie Donton decided he wanted to make a difference for those suffering from chronic conditions. In 1994, he founded Care One Hospice in California, where he was living at the time. This was at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and Care One Hospice became one of the centers caring for AIDS patients.

Donton and his team learned about the diverse needs of people living with HIV through caring for them. Based on his experience with HIV/AIDS patients in California and touched by what he witnessed during a trip to Ghana in 1998, Donton founded the International Health Care Center (IHCC). The goal of IHCC was to provide compassionate care to those at the end stage of life from HIV to ensure a dignified death. At this time, general understanding of HIV, as well as treatment options, were limited in Ghana and many relatives dropped loved ones dying of AIDS at IHCC.

IHCC continued to fill a much-needed gap in Ghana, and it soon became clear that the center would need more support. In 1999, a year after IHCC was founded, Donton established the West Africa AIDS Foundation (WAAF) to raise funds to support IHCC, as well as to focus on HIV prevention. IHCC and WAAF have worked together for the past 25 years, providing prevention and treatment options across the HIV cascade.

After establishing itself as a leader in HIV treatment and prevention programming in Ghana, WAAF began focusing on strengthening its organizational capacity to improve its sustainability and to prepare to receive direct funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In October 2021, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and USAID-funded Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project began providing WAAF with capacity strengthening technical assistance. EpiC staff facilitated an organizational self-assessment for WAAF, using the USAID Organizational Capacity Assessment (OCA) with Non-US Partner Assessment (NUPAS) tool to evaluate the organization’s strengths and gaps. WAAF and EpiC collaborated to develop a capacity development plan to address the gaps identified, as well as areas identified by WAAF staff, as key to the organization’s growth.

Between March and September 2022, WAAF focused on organizational and strategic information capacity strengthening. With EpiC’s support, the organization reviewed existing organizational documents, such as the human resources manual, finance and administrative manual, subaward management policy, and board charter. Together, the organizations updated policies or created new policies to better align with USAID’s requirements. At the request of WAAF, EpiC staff also led staff through trainings to better understand and comply with USAID reporting requirements and effectively manage subpartners. EpiC worked with WAAF to upgrade and train staff on reporting systems, such as USAID-approved financial software, information technology backup support, and Data for Accountability Transparency and Impact (DATIM). EpiC Ghana staff met regularly with WAAF staff to review reporting and financial records to ensure the organization has the capacity to meet USAID requirements. In addition, EpiC provided continuous technical assistance to enhance WAAF staff’s technical capacity in implementing PrEP and HIV self-testing through differentiated service delivery models.

In FY23, EpiC continued to provide ongoing organizational strengthening. In addition to organizational support, WAAF identified resource mobilization and incorporating mental health support into their programming as key priorities. In response, EpiC led a virtual training for WAAF on resource mobilization that focused on understanding the funder landscape, assessing funding opportunities and competitors, and writing proposals. WAAF will use these skills to secure funding from different sources to ensure their long-term sustainability.

EpiC staff also held a virtual training on psychological first aid (PFA). This training focused on the key factors of providing psychosocial support to people in distress. WAAF staff plans to use these skills when working with clients who have received distressing news, such as a positive HIV result, or who are facing distressing personal issues, such as losing a job or the death of a loved one. Participants also practiced using PFA skills as self-care to help regulate their own stress.

Over the last two years, supportive supervision, coaching, and mentoring has allowed WAAF to better analyze potential funding and growth opportunities, critically assessing the fit of the opportunity, the resources needed to pursue the opportunity, and the likelihood of success. WAAF is better able to monitor and evaluate its own performance, as well as subpartners’ performance, to identify areas for improvement and to communicate successes and challenges to stakeholders. This ensures accountability and transparency. WAAF staff are now more confident in their ability to assess and retool existing programs to make them more effective moving forward. With the skills and knowledge they have gained on mobilizing and managing resources, WAAF’s work is more sustainable.

Receiving capacity development TA has helped WAAF develop in so many ways, giving it the platform to identify its strengths and weaknesses, the ability to develop strategies to improve performance, better withstand our continuous uphill battles and to persevere in servicing our beneficiaries in a more effective and efficient manner for improved health outcomes.

Dr. Naa Ashiley Vanderpuye-Donton, Chief Executive Officer, WAAF

WAAF leadership realizes that capacity strengthening is an ongoing process and will continue to learn and grow, building upon the support they have already received from EpiC.

This blog is part of a series highlighting EpiC’s local partner capacity strengthening work. Check back next Thursday for another story on capacity strengthening.

Featured photo: A nurse shows the WAAF and IHCC mobile clinic to a USAID delegation. (Photo Credit: USAID)