Featured Organization: African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST), Kampala, Uganda

LMG staff Dr. Mahesh Shukla presenting a copy of the Board Chair Handbook to ACHEST’s newly elected board chair Professor Florence Mirembe while Executive Director Professor Francis Omaswa and Health Systems Strengthening Director Dr. Peter Eriki look on. Photo: ACHEST/MSH Staff

The African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST) is a civil society organization (CSO) based in Uganda that was created by African leaders in health and development. ACHEST strategically advocates for the use of evidence to strengthen the capacity of health professionals and to build institutional capacity to provide transformational leadership to African communities, countries, and the world. ACHEST has successfully held two annual Congresses on Health Systems Governance to bring together African health officials in a South-to-South discussion on issues and ideas around governance in the health sector.

ACHEST uses targeted strategic communication to catalyze behavior change that will result in stronger ownership and implementation capacity for proven interventions, and better health for Africans. To achieve this, ACHEST is forging alliances and partnerships with individuals, organizations and networks within Africa and around the world, one of those being with the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project.

Through funding from USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS, LMG has been working with ACHEST to develop its capacity on transparent governance as well as management of current and future projects. LMG’s support aims to help this important African CSO to fully play its role as the coordinating center for the U.S. Government-funded Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a support network of 13 schools of medicine and public health in Africa.

As part of the work with ACHEST, LMG has helped integrate gender into the organization’s strategic goals. A gender audit of the organization is planned to ensure that gender is mainstreamed into all its maternal, newborn and child health as well as health workforce development activities. ACHEST will also forge partnerships with gender-focused organizations whose mandates are to promote the wellbeing of women and children. Through its MEPI network, ACHEST will incorporate gender audits and awareness training into its programs to develop the health workforce, retain workers and strengthen health systems; women must also be encouraged not only to enroll but also to complete their education to work as physicians, surgeons, hospital administrators, etc. Workplace issues as well as social factors that influence the career choices for women must be discussed among health professionals to bring more women into leadership positions in the health field and move the needle toward greater gender equity.

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For the past five years, ACHEST’s work has been spearheaded by its Executive Director, Prof. Francis Omaswa.  Prof. Omaswa has worked in rural Ugandan hospitals, and, as a leader within Uganda’s Ministry of Health as well as the World Health Organization, brings extensive experience working at all levels of the health system. Prof. Omaswa has also been a prolific writer, building the case for increased country ownership. Says Prof. Omaswa, “[Country ownership] means the affected communities recognize they have issues that need to be addressed and the responsibility is primarily theirs and no one else’s. That is crucial to everything else that happens later. Until beneficiaries recognize the problem, then solutions that come are not going to work. Until there is sufficient ownership in the developing countries that are driving the programs, the programs will not be sustainable.”

Prof. Omaswa and his colleagues recognize the importance of amplifying the voices of all those who are working in African health systems. To this end, ACHEST created and currently runs The African Health Systems Governance Network (ASHGOVNET), a blog that addresses issues and shares information on the subject of stewardship, governance, and leadership of health systems in Africa as well as on global issues that are of interest to Africa. ASHGOVNET topics related to country ownership have included “A vision for transformative ownership and capacity building for Africa’s health,” “Creating synergies and building capacity for Africa’s Health,” and “The potential of health professional associations in Africa.”

ACHEST continues to support African health leaders to address the challenge of country ownership and supports research around national institutions. Collaborating with the New York Academy of Medicine, ACHEST co-authored “Strong Ministries for Strong Health Systems”, looking at the strengths of health ministries and the capabilities of ministers of health. Building off this initial assessment, and with direct support and technical guidance from USAID, LMG is working with ACHEST to develop and test an orientation package for ministers of health, permanent secretaries, director generals, and leaders of national HIV and AIDS programs to address gaps in their preparation and orientation. Working in collaboration with Prof. Omaswa and his team, LMG will test the orientation package in collaboration with the East, Central and Southern African Health Community (ECSA-HC), leveraging ECSA’s existing network of 11 member countries, and laying a foundation for greater South-to-South technical assistance and regional cooperation for leadership, management, and governance capacity building.

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The orientation package will equip approximately 20 ministers of health, permanent secretaries, and leaders of the national HIV and AIDS programs with the skills and practices to advocate for greater resources for the health sector, and to better direct and oversee the provision of HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support services. This will help ensure the successful implementation of country ownership commitments under the PEPFAR Partnership Frameworks. LMG will also be working with ACHEST to identify funding for the scale up of the program through ACHEST’s networks (i.e., ASHGOVNET, African Platform on HRH, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Coalition of African CSOs) and to engage representatives of other African sub-regions (the West African Health Organization, the Southern African Development Community, and Coordination Organisation for the Fight Against Endemic Diseases in Central Africa) to share costs for future scale-up of the program and to decrease the dependence on donor funding over time.

To learn more about ACHEST, visit their website here.

Learn more about LMG’s other partners here.

Read more about how country ownership is at the core of the vision for the LMG Project.

More Reading on Country Ownership: Perspectives from Around the World

The Importance of Country Ownership: An Introduction

Country Ownership is a Three-Legged Stool

Participation of Civil Society is Essential to Country Ownership

What is Country Ownership? Perspectives from Vietnam and Elsewhere

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