Grass-roots NGOs gain acceptance for AIDS control

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China's grass-roots community-based non-government organizations (NGOs) are gaining recognition and support from society and government in their efforts on AIDS control.

An increasing number of grass-roots NGOs have been approved by local governments under the China-Gates Foundation HIV Prevention Cooperation Program, according to Ray Yip, chief representative of the Beijing office with the China Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The program, launched in November 2007, was the first large-scale public health partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, China's National Health and Family Planning Commission, the State Council AIDS Working Committee and social organizations.

The program targeting people most vulnerable to HIV infection, consisting of men who have sex with men, female sex workers, injecting drug users and people living with HIV and AIDS, has covered 14 pilot cities throughout China including Beijing and Shanghai.

The six-year program placed strong emphasis on supporting community-based organizations to complement the work of the local branches of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and hospitals, according to Yip.

Yip said grass-roots NGOs have developed effective cooperation with the local governments in these pilot cities over the past six years.

The community-based NGOs are easily accepted by HIV carriers as many NGOs have been founded by HIV carriers themselves. They can easily access special social groups including gays, lesbians and sex workers, who are difficult for government organizations to get in touch with.

At the very beginning, grass-roots NGOs and the governments did not trust each other. The organizations could not get continuous drug supply to help the AIDS patients while the local disease control departments found it hard to find and have in-depth contact with the high-risk populations of AIDS, according to Yip.

Since the program started operation, many unqualified grass-roots NGOs have been closed and some effective organizations have developed stable cooperation with the local disease control departments, Yip said.

Tianjin Deep Blue Working Group, an AIDS prevention NGO, is one of the cooperation organizations with the program. Yang Jie, director of the group, said his group has gained trust from the local government under the cooperation mechanism of the program over the past six years.

Even when the program expires, Tianjin municipal government will continue to support and cooperate with the group, Yang added.

Governments cooperated with the grass-roots NGOs in the model of outcome-oriented targets and performance-based financing.

These approaches differentiate these NGOs based on their program performance. In this way, the non-performing ones have been eliminated, the under-performing ones have been forced to improve, while those that performed well have been pushed to innovate, according to Peter Mok, independent consultant with the program.

This helps lay the foundation for collaboration and trust between local disease control departments and grass-roots NGOs, Mok said.

Up till now, the governments of six pilot cities including Guangzhou, Tianjin and Shanghai have shown their will to buy relevant services from these NGOs after the program completed its six-year mission in China, said Mok.

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