Can local communities ‘sustain’ HIV/AIDS programmes? A South African example
Globally, there is a renewed interest in building the local sustainability of HIV/AIDS programmes to ensure that once funders withdraw, local communities can sustain programmes. While the ‘local sustainability assumption’ is widespread, little research has assessed this. In this article, we assess the sustainability of the Entabeni Project, a community-based intervention that sought to build women’s local leadership and capacity to respond to HIV/AIDS through a group of volunteer carers, 3 years after external support was withdrawn. Overall, the sustainability of the Entabeni Project was limited. The wider social and political context undermined volunteer carers’ sense that they could affect change, with little external support for them from government and NGOs, who struggled to engage with local community organizations. At the community level, some church leaders and community members recognized the important role of health volunteers, many continued to devalue the work of the carers, especially once there was no external organization to support and validate their work. Within the health volunteer group, despite extensive efforts to change dynamics, it remained dominated by a local male leader who denied others active participation while lacking the skills to meaningfully lead the project. Our case study suggests that the local-sustainability assumption is wishful thinking. Small-scale local projects are unlikely to be able to challenge the broader social and political dynamics hindering their sustainability without meaningful external support.