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This is a joint post with Christina Droggitis and David Wendt.

The PEPFAR Strategy

The White HousePEPFAR marked this year’s World AIDS Day (Dec 1st) with the launch of their new five-year strategy. According to the press release, this document provides a high level policy framework (not a road map or implementation plan), outlining the general direction of PEPFAR in the next five-years. More specifically the strategy provides some insight into how PEPFAR will orient its approach to treatment, care and prevention and partnerships with country governments in the fight against AIDS. Of special note are the 5 key goals and specific targets (see page 6 of the strategy) that sets PEPFAR 2 apart from the previous phase of PEPFAR in the way that policy is being articulated.

Language and general policy approach

The strategy codifies much of the language we have been hearing from OGAC over the past few months. "Sustainability," "country ownership," "strengthening national health systems," "emphasis on prevention," "evidence-based programming," "coordination and integration across health issues," "multi-lateral cooperation," "innovation," "operations research," "evaluation," and a "woman-centered response,"—all ascendant PEPFAR vocabulary—are prominently utilized in the strategy. The language and general direction outlined in the strategy seems to recognize that PEPFAR—having taken an emergency response approach over the past five years—now faces major challenges to maintaining, sustaining, and expanding upon current successes (and to addressing nagging limitations in the global response). To address these concerns, PEPFAR and the new administration are now trying to take a long-term view on their role in the global fight against HIV, in the context of other health priorities. They also emphasize the U.S. government’s intention to build national health systems to be able to effectively plan and respond to broader health and development needs. This new global five-year strategy and the country Partnership Frameworks seem to have emerged as OGAC’s policy mechanisms for reforming PEPFAR into the “Presidents’ Sustainable Plan for AIDS Relief” (PSPFAR).

Evidence based Policy making and program design

OGAC and the administration are re-thinking policies based on evidence and learning from PEPFAR 1 to ensure that PEPFAR’s massive inputs have impacts well beyond the immediate outputs of enrolling millions in to treatment programs. For example, PEPFAR funding needs to do much better at prevention, and the strategy document acknowledges the need to scale up prevention efforts along with the scale up of treatment efforts. Earlier this week, PEPFAR released three annexes to accompany the strategy document which further detail how PEPFAR intends to create a “durable response” that transitions the U.S. led programs into country owned responses to HIV. The annex on prevention, treatment and care is divided into two phases: Phase one-spend the first two years working with governments to collect evidence on what works and develop the roadmap for a basic package of prevention, care and treatment services for countries; and Phase two-spend the following three years supporting countries to scale up the evidence-based approaches indentified in the first two years. The strategy and the annexes spell out the WHAT should be done to transition prevention, care and treatment efforts into greater country control over the response, but the HOW is an ongoing venture between PEPFAR and countries.

What’s ahead? Implementation and measurement challenges

At a recent town hall meeting, Ambassador Goosby mentioned that over the next year, PEPFAR will work with country stakeholders to develop an implementation plan and extensive changes will be made in the guidance offered to countries (COP and otherwise). The main goal of the changes will be to better inform countries on how to address the policies outlined in the strategy and shift to a more country-led, sustainable response. It seems that this guidance will come in addition to the Partnership Frameworks, which are already underway. These Frameworks, referred to by Ambassador Goosby as the “first step” towards a more sustainable response, are agreements between PEPFAR, the national government and other country partners to lay out a five year country strategy and an implementation plan building on existing national priorities for a coordinated and country led AIDS response.

So far so good. While others have been quick to criticize the Obama administration’s new strategy, it is important to acknowledge policy reform as an essential first step. Looking ahead, we find that there are some troubling questions about implementation and measuring results. These partnership frameworks have been in the works for over a year, four agreements have been signed, and all are still without accompanying implementation plans—the actual document meant to outline specific details of the activities and organizations responsible for carrying out and achieving the objectives, commitments and targets laid out in the agreement. While PEPFAR has strategically retained its treatment, prevention and care targets to report success—this time increasing the cumulative totals to 4+/12/12—it has also included laudable, but harder-to-measure goals and targets such as for country ownership, health system strengthening, integration of HIV with other health services, and sustainability of the response.

Without implementation plans and country specific indicators in the picture yet, it is very difficult to see how PEPFAR will translate these sound and welcome policies to a country led response that can deliver on yet to be defined (and measured) concepts like country ownership. Early signs of discordance between implementation and policy are emerging. For example, Ambassador Goosby has praised the CCM structure of the Global Fund as a decision-making model, and suggested that that PEPFAR move closer to this model, where country actors have more direct control over funding allocations. PEPFAR is trying to increase the amount of funding that goes to local, rather than international, recipients, but this does not address issues of ownership and sustainability of the program as a whole, particularly when PEPFAR funding will still be channeled mostly to non-government recipients and Country Operation Plans will still be developed by U.S. government teams. As far as we can tell, the design and management of the programs are still tightly controlled by the U.S. Government and accountability to the U.S. Congress is clearly of highest importance relative to the accountability to beneficiaries of these programs. So, how exactly will the government lead/steer the ownership of this response to national stakeholders?

Looking ahead to the implementation plans, we are hoping to see some sort of structural changes that will systematically shift planning and management functions, even if incrementally, to stakeholders in countries. Will implementation plans be backed up by some serious mechanisms for mutual accountability, built on a foundation of transparency? To be clear, will country partnership framework implementation plans address basic issues of accountability: a) who is accountable for what?; b) who will be accountable to whom?; c) how will accountability be monitored? ; and, d) what consequences will exist and for whom if commitments and targets are not met?

In sum, full marks for Act I to our friends at OGAC, several U.S.G agencies and at the State Department who have worked tirelessly to think through what constitutes evidence based policy in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Notwithstanding resource constraints, the stage is set with policies that can increase the flexibility of funding to improve programming options for better outcomes, but writing and acting Acts II, III and IV with partner countries for a grand finale in 2014 will be the defining moment for this administration’s role in the global response to HIV/AIDS.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.