AIDS Incentives Costly to Agencies; Millions Spent to Fill Seminars

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

AIDS Incentives Costly to Agencies; Millions Spent to Fill Seminars


Byline: Karen Palmer, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BLANTYRE, Malawi - Across the impoverished continent, aid agencies are doling out millions of dollars on "allowance" fees and per diems, financial incentives for people in countries hard hit by the AIDS epidemic to attend meetings and seminars to learn how to prevent it.

Although widely practiced, the custom rarely is talked about: Donors likely would be shocked if they knew their dollars were the only thing that can lure to AIDS seminars the very people who should be most interested in promoting development and battling the disease.

In Malawi, one of the world's 10 poorest countries, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have created a monster.

"If you try to organize an event without [financial incentives], you will not see anyone," said Enock Phiri, who has worked with World Vision and Population Services International.

"The ones to be trained are the people we're having problems with," added Jones Laviwa, director of Churches in Action for Relief and Development.

"The international NGOs all have money. They came here and spoiled the people, and now we have problems. An NGO like this one, we don't have money to dish out to everyone," he said.

It is difficult to get a sense of exactly how much money is being spent because almost no one will talk openly about issuing incentives, but the going rate in Malawi seems to be 1,500 kwachas, worth about $10.

More than three-quarters of Malawi's population lives on less than $2 a day.

Lyford Gideon, a financial officer with the Malawi Network of AIDS Services Organizations (MANASO), an umbrella group, said the per diems are not meant to entice or reward participants; they are simply good hospitality.

A recent training session hosted by MANASO saw 20 percent of the budget for the event go to per diems, amounting to nearly $500 for a three-day event involving 25 participants.

Multiply that by the thousands of HIV seminars or AIDS conferences across the continent, and the figure is staggering.

The practice of paying for attendance started innocently enough. Recognizing that they're working with a population that struggles to simply survive, some NGOs began offering reimbursement for things like transportation, accommodation and food. …

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