Young Children Affected by HIV/AIDS Convening: Key Take Aways, Best Practices & Partnership

“There’s a real magic that happens when people are all in the room together and have a chance to share strategies and challenges. They find they don’t have to recreate the wheel; often, the solution and wisdom is in the room.” – Lisa Bohmer, Senior Program Officer at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Coalition Chair

The Coalition’s Manager, Corinna Csaky, was honored to participate in a recent convening focused on Young Children Affected by HIV/AIDS. The meeting, hosted by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in Naivasha, Kenya, brought together grantees and other key stakeholders to highlight best practices, share learnings, and provide opportunities for collaboration on Early Childhood Development (ECD), particularly with regard to responsive caregiving. Following are some of the highlights and key take aways Corinna noted from this convening. More information about the is available here: 

ECD is gaining significant traction in the field. Attendees shared demonstrable improvements in the developmental attainment of infants and young children. In addition, there is clear evidence of increased knowledge of responsive caregiving for ECD amongst not only grantees, but also the parents and communities they support. New coordination structures and policies have been established to help deliver ECD services on the ground in several countries.

There are exciting real world examples from which we can learn. Hilton grantees have a strong base of programmatic materials, which will be useful for learning at all levels – from the local to the global. Furthermore, the Hilton Foundation and Stellenbosch University have partnered to create the PLANT online platform that serves both as a repository for ECD materials and a vehicle for organisations to communicate with one another to share evidence, learning, and other tools.

Among the best practices highlighted at the meeting were:

  • Placing a priority on building from, and strengthening the excellent indigenous knowledge, attitudes, and structures that are already working. There are important learnings to be found at all levels – from individual mothers to the national government.
  • Where there is high-level political leadership, efforts to support ECD are far more effective. The multi-sectoral nature of ECD requires a whole-of-government approach to coordinate and motivate different ministries to work together. Where such high level political will is present, progress is clear. Investing and participating in long-term advocacy and capacity building to create strong political leadership is critical.
  • Involving men and boys is key. Too often, programmes target mothers only. Yet fathers can play a key role in supporting both mother and child to achieve ECD. The involvement of men and boys is vital for addressing many of the drivers of inadequate care.
  • Funding community-based organizations directly is essential. Community- and faith-based organizations are often the lifeline that connects vulnerable children and families to systems and services. These organizations require foundational capacity building, in addition to technical support, in order to be effective. Yet, global funding often gets “stuck” farther up the funding food chain. Funding these organizations directly, though challenging, is critical.

The challenges facing ECD are consistent with other multi-sectoral efforts. These include:

  • The need for overall health systems strengthening;
  • A reliance on community health volunteers – who have very limited resources and time – for supervision and mentoring; and
  • Referral pathways between different sectors requiring procedures, guidance, and funding – particularly for referrals outside of the health system.

Social and economic barriers to ECD also remain a major challenge. Caregivers may have the technical capacity and personal commitment to provide nurturing care, but other challenges – such as mental health, broader household duties, and income generating activities – make it difficult.

Decision-making in many African countries operates at two levels: the national government level and the district level. Since many African countries operate through a devolved model of government, it is necessary to work at both levels in order to achieve change. Siaya County in Kenya, in particular, is an excellent example of effective, holistic support for children affected by HIV and AIDS. The first lady of Siaya spearheaded a comprehensive approach that combines legal and policy change with coordination among NGOs, CBOs, the private sector, and governmental bodies in the county.

Global funders are increasingly supporting ECD. The U.K.’s Department for International Development is launching an ECD research initiative in four African countries, helping to create evidence on delivering at scale. In addition, Co-Impact recently issued a call for countries to bid for ECD funding and the Lego Foundation is investing in parenting. The World Bank is looking for the second wave of its Early Years Fellowship, started in 2017, and has invested in a five year ECD programme in Malawi.

Grantees were in agreement with the Coalition that HIV-affected adolescent mothers and their children are particularly at risk. There is a good deal of programmatic and anecdotal evidence on the scale and nature of need. Several of the organizations in attendance have devised programmatic solutions and there is a growing movement of organisations keen to champion change for these young mothers and their children.

In all, this meeting yielded important findings and resulted in greater connection with partners across sectors. We look forward to building on this to further. And we are grateful to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for providing this unique space to share, learn and plan together for young children affected by HIV and AIDS.