2012 ONE Africa Award: Changing the Tide in the Fight Against AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis

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Our next finalist for the 2012 ONE Africa Award is the dynamic organization Friends of the Global Fund Africa, or better known as Friends Africa. I visited Friends Africa in Lagos last month to hear their incredible story.

After serving as a technical advisor on Global Fund-financed projects in Nigeria for three years in the early 2000s, Dr. Akudo Ikemba realized that more needed to be done in order to ensure the effectiveness of Global Fund monies on the ground. She also saw an untapped need to raise awareness and support for the Global Fund amongst African citizens. When she saw some of the work being done by Friends of the Fight (USA) and Amis du Fonds Mondial and other Global Fund partners, she realized that Africa needed its own “Friends” that could bring governments, business leaders and citizens together to build support for the Global Fund and further its work by raising funds and commitments from African political and corporate leaders. At about the same time, the Global Fund invited Dr. Ikemba to discuss the formation of a partner organization for Africa and a few months later, Friends Africa officially opened its door in Lagos.

Since 2006, Friends Africa has been at the forefront of building and demonstrating African support for the Global Fund. It has raised commitments of $31 million through its Africa Champions from Health campaign, which enlists former heads of states and political leaders to call on African governments to support the the fund’s work. Through its Gift from Africa program, it has secured an additional $5 million from the private and corporate sectors for the Global Fund since 2010.

How does it do this? By strategically using former African heads of state, titans of business, and artists to engage governments and leading enterprises to obtain commitments for the Global Fund. As the developed world faces budget and fiscal crises, it is increasingly important for the developing world to not only support the work of institutions like the Global Fund, but also contribute to its functioning and financing. Friends Africa is doing just this.

Raising the funds and financing for an institution like the Global Fund, though, is just one side of the coin that is Friends Africa. In addition to its high level advocacy, Friends Africa is changing the face of the fight against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis every day. They have extensive programs that are building capacity at local, national and regional levels to engage in advocacy and direct services in their communities. Moreover, Friends Africa is also leading the charge in engaging small to medium enterprises – not just corporate giants – on the policies they have in place for their employees facing these diseases. Friends Africa is truly leading an African response to an African problem, taking the fight to the board rooms and the store rooms of African businesses. To truly turn the tide against these killer diseases, Friends Africa has gone where many have yet to tread—to the enterprising leaders and employers of a bulk of Africa’s hardworking citizens. Friends Africa is not only funding the fight, but also changing the face of these diseases to reduce stigmatization and stereotypes.

And while high-level and grassroots advocacy is a big part of Friends Africa’s work, Friends also produces reports that policy makers and citizens can use around the continent. They are impacting the debates without necessarily being in the room, and leveraging a network of consultants to provide technical assistance to governments seeking funding for reproductive health and HIV projects. As one can see, Friends Africa not only advocates at all levels, but also provides its own substantive contribution to the ongoing struggle against these diseases.

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