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Celebrating 18 years of UNASO’s Existence


This year 2014, the Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations (UNASO), marks 18 years of existence. This period has seen UNASO go through various strategic planning cycles that have yielded remarkable achievements, in the coordination of civil society response to HIV in Uganda.

Founded in 1996, as an umbrella organization, UNASO exists to provide coordination, representation and networking among civil society AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs); and to provide technical assistance to ASOs in HIV&AIDS programming for enhanced quality service delivery.  These organizations comprise of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and other non state actors who respond to the needs of the people both infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in Uganda.

Over this period of existence, UNASO has inevitably evolved in response to the dynamics in the operating environment, but has remained consistent with her mandate and focus in the four core strategic areas including: Institutional Capacity development, Promotion of Strategic Information and Knowledge Management; Advocacy and Representation of ASOs; and Networking and Partnership Building.  The account below highlights the key achievements that UNASO has registered over the years in above areas.

  1. Institutional Capacity Development

At inception, one of the key areas of focus for UNASO was the need to strengthen the institutional capacity of ASOs so that they are able to provide quality HIV&AIDS services. To effectively execute this mandate, UNASO inevitably had to build the institutional capacity for both; the Secretariat and her member organisations.

  1. Institutional Capacity of UNASO Secretariat

Various interventions and investments have been undertaken over the past 18 years, to ensure that UNASO acquires adequate institutional capacity to effectively undertake her mandate.  The following are the key achievements:

  1. UNASO has consistently maintained a strong and effective Board that has played an oversight role over the organization. Over the years, the UNASO Board has been able to meet on a regular basis to deliberate key governance issues, and has provided strategic guidance to the organization by reviewing and approving policy documents such as strategic plans, project work plans procurement policies and plans, human resource manual and plans, finance management manuals, and organizational constitutional amendments, among others. Over time, the Board has undergone various capacity building by having retreats to reflect on their roles and how best they can support the organization.  The need to consistently maintain a strong Board that meets UNASO’s governance needs amidst changing circumstances, led to the development of the Governance Manual which prepared the way for the recruitment of the current Governance Board, composed of 13 members from various constituencies of civil society with various competences.
  1. UNASO has always recruited and retained qualified and competent staff who have worked diligently to deliver the various strategic plans, through a multitude of projects and programs, under the guidance of the Board. When the operating environment demanded new and stronger staff competences, UNASO went through restructuring processes that not only brought in new skills and competences, but also overhauled roles and responsibilities among the staff at the Secretariat.
  1. UNASO has consistently equipped the Secretariat with various tools that have facilitated implementation of the various projects and programs. These include: office space, server and internet connectivity, computers and their software, cameras, vehicles, among others.
  1. The organization has developed various systems and procedures that have facilitated internal control of the organization, and have ensured accountability to internal and external stakeholders. These systems include organizational constitution, procurement policy, finance and administration manual, human resource policy, the governance manual, volunteer policy, among others. The existence and functionality of these systems have made a profound contribution to the institutional growth of UNASO over the years.
  1. UNASO has successfully gone through various strategic planning cycles that have been completed and evaluated and have delivered invaluable achievements. These have provided considerable learning, and have greatly informed the subsequent strategic plans.  Currently, UNASO is transitioning into new 5 year strategic planning cycle 2012 -2017 in which her continued focus and commitment to coordinate civil society response to HIV& AIDS in the country is well articulated.
  1. The organization has invested considerable efforts in resource mobilization from both her membership and Development Partners to ensure implementation of her strategic plans and execution of her mandate. The Development Partners who have supported UNASO since inception include: Action Aid International, DFID, The Global Fund, Civil Society Fund, Partnership Fund, HIVOS, Oxfam-GB, UNDP, AVAC, AJWS, Help Age International, R4DI, SAN!
  1. Being a membership organization, UNASO has ensured that annual general assembly (AGMs) for her members is held regularly. AGMs have provided a forum for the membership to receive accountability from the Secretariat and the Board on organizational performance, and to exercise their membership rights such as voting for Board members.
  1. The organization has continued to expand her reach in terms of membership recruitment and geographical presence. To date, UNASO’s membership has grown to over 2000 AIDS service organizations countrywide, coordinated through 52 district networks.
  1. Institutional Capacity of District Networks and ASOs

At its establishment, UNASO was envisaged to take up the mantle of facilitating institutional capacity development of member organisations. In addition, as the organisation grew through the years, her membership grew as well all over the country, and this inevitably made it difficult to have their coordination undertaken solely at the national Secretariat level.  In 2002, UNASO members agreed that a decentralised coordination mechanism should be established.  This gave birth to district networks, whose mandate is to coordinate ASOs that operate at district level. Subsequently, UNASO Secretariat was mandated to build the institutional capacity of these networks and their member ASOs. Over time UNASO has made the following achievements:

  1. Facilitating district networks with resources to undertake coordination of their members ASOs. These included funds, equipment and establishment of permanent coordination offices and recruitment of coordinators.  This has made coordination of civil society response at the district level feasible.
  1. Supporting capacity building of district networks through trainings, support supervision, on-job coaching, mentoring, and exchange visits. In addition, UNASO developed and produced capacity building manuals on strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, finance management, organisational development and resource mobilisation. These manuals have been distributed to district networks and member ASOs, and have contributed to improving the quality of civil society contribution to HIV&AIDS response in the country.
  1. Supporting district-based annual general meetings (AGMs) with funds and technical guidance to enable district based member ASOs receive accountability from the district executive committees and coordination offices, and to exercise their membership rights such as voting for executive committee members. These AGMs also provide opportunities for members to contribute to the agenda for the national level General Assembly.
  1. Supporting some district networks to mobilize their own resources and funds for their activities, through technical and moral support and sharing of information on funding opportunities. Examples of district networks that have got their own funding through these efforts include: Kasese, Rakai, Kitgum, Kaberamaido and Mpigi, among others.
  1. Promotion of Strategic Information and Knowledge Management:

The need to facilitate sharing of information and knowledge among AIDS Service Organisations for improved, efficient and effective HIV and AIDS response was one of the key factors that masterminded the founding of UNASO in 1996.  UNASO has unceasingly facilitated management and sharing of strategic information and knowledge on HIV &AIDS. The following are the key achievements registered over time:

  1. Mapping of ASOs in various districts across the country. As a result, a directory of over 2000 ASOs was produced and an online database on the same members was established.  This has facilitated access to information on the various ASOs in terms of where they operate, what they do, their contact details, thematic area of focus, and legal status, among others.
  1. Documenting the contribution of ASOs to the national HIV&AIDS response in the areas of: coordination, advocacy, treatment and care, prevention and social support and systems strengthening. The report gives a clear picture of how civil society organizations have contributed to the national HIV response, and gives recommendations on areas where their contribution needs improvement.
  1. Supporting information sharing platforms in districts, on key issues that affect the national and decentralized response to HIV. The platforms have continued to bring together stakeholders from both the private and public sectors operating in districts, to draw synergies and jointly generate ideas to address the various challenges that undermine effective HIV response at the district level.
  1. Conducting and facilitating regional consultative and feedback meetings on the implementation and performance of the National HIV Strategic Plan, and the entire civil society coordination arrangement in the national HIV &AIDS response. These regional fora, have enabled ASOs to contribute to the national agenda for HIV response and to have their voices reach policy makers on issues that require attention and improvement
  1. Organized national level a, to debate issues and generate ideas towards strengthening the national response. Examples of issues that have been discussed in the past include: funding and coordination mechanism for HIV response, legal framework, HIV&AIDS resource management and social accountability, among others. These fora have generated useful ideas that have informed the development of the national HIV Strategic Plan, and other policies.
  1. Summarized selected key national HIV&AIDS policies and guidelines for HIV &AIDS and facilitated their dissemination among ASOs to align their HIV&AIDS programming with national policies and guidelines to ensure that their work is legal and adheres to the required standards.
  1. Developed a website which facilitates communication through online technologies with the public stakeholders who may not have access to in-house information materials. The UNASO website provides a forum for regular update on key issues, as well organizational publications and resources. It also carries links to the websites of member organizations, development partners and other key stakeholders.
  1. Established aResource Centre which functions as a repository for information resource on HIV & AIDS. These resources include: newsletters, journals, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, manuals and books. Over the years, staff member from ASOs, researchers, UNASO staff and students have used these resources as sources of information and knowledge to support their work, researches and studies on HIV &AIDS.
  1. Advocacy and Representation of ASOs

The need for ASOs to have a harmonised voice that could be heard by policy makers was another reason for the establishment of UNASO. The ASOs were confronted by similar challenges and needs, and required to have their voice channelled to policy makers as well as getting represented on some decision making bodies. UNASO was mandated to lead the ASOs in advocacy and representation. Over the years, UNASO has unceasingly taken up this role. Achievements include:

  1. Spearheading the development of the CSO Advocacy Strategy. This strategy is a comprehensive document that focuses on broad areas that require civil society concerted advocacy efforts, and the various policy makers to be targeted as well as the lead organizations with comparative advantage to spearhead advocacy campaigns on given issues.
  1. Representing ASOs on various national HIV&AIDS advisory committees such as Partnership Committee, Country Coordination Mechanism for Global Fund (CCM) and CSF Steering Committees. The various ASO representatives on these committees have articulated issues from ASOs to ensure that they are considered when major decisions on the national HIV response are made. In addition UNASO has continued to represent member ASOs in international conferences, to share with other international actors, the contribution ASOs are making to the national response to HIV&AIDS.
  1. Mobilizing ASOs to engage policy makers on formulation of policies and laws that tend to affect the national HIV response. In 2008 UNASO rallied ASOs that successfully engaged government on the need to have a second Global Fund Principal Recipient in charge of civil society organizations. UNASO has also mobilized ASOs to participate in various coalitions that are working to influence policies. These coalitions include: Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, Coalition on Maternal Health, Coalition on HIV&AIDS Control Bill, and Civil Society HIV Prevention Research Advocacy Coalition Group, among others.
  1. Supporting district based ASOs and networks to hold public dialogue discussions, in which communities and their leaders discuss issues that affect HIV &AIDS service delivery. These have facilitated partnerships between private and public sectors, and have facilitated joint planning for HIVAIDS programs and services at the district level.
  1. Undertaking research on issues that affect the national response in order to facilitate evidence-based advocacy. Some of the key researches conducted include: survey on access to ART in Uganda, assessment of the capacity of ASOs to influence policies and improving quality of HIV and AIDS services, access to safe male circumcision services, and assessment of governance and accountability mechanisms among public and civil society actors in HIV &AIDS service delivery, among others.
  1. Contributing to enhancement of social accountability in HIV&AIDS service delivery in the districts. For example, UNASO supported some the district networks to engage politicians during the political campaigns in 2011 at local government level, to make commitments on supporting HIV&AIDS programs when elected in office. These commitments formed Citizen-leaders pacts; and the networks used them to demand for social accountability from their elected leaders.  Furthermore, using new accountability approaches, particularly the Community Score Card and Citizen Report Card, UNASO has innovatively developed accountability frameworks for ASOs to facilitate their compliance with accountability requirements; and has continued to demand for social accountability from the Public Sector on HIV&AIDS service delivery.

4.     Networking and Partnership Building among Civil Society ASOs

The need to have solidarity, partnership and collaboration among civil societies formed a strong justification for founding UNASO. Over the past 17 years, achievements include:

  1. Creation of district networks of AIDS Service Organizations. Since 2002, when the decentralized coordination mechanism commenced, UNASO has facilitated creation of 52 district networks that are spread throughout the country.

Fig.1:  Map of Uganda: Districts Network of AIDS Service Organisations:

  1. The dynamics in the operating environment such as dwindling resources for HIV &AIDS have inspired UNASO to enter into a consortium with other national level networks: NAFOPHANU and UGANET, to implement joint programs in a manner that is economical, efficient and effective. This has minimized duplication of interventions among these networks and leveraged use of resources in the coordination of ASOs.
  1. Under the Partnership Coordination Framework by the Uganda AIDS Commission, UNASO was entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating all national NGOs under their self coordinating entity (NNGO-SCE); and has further taken on the responsibility of hosting the Civil Society Inter Constituency Coordination Committee (CICC). Thus, UNASO currently serves as the Secretariat for NGO-SCE and CICC.
  1. UNASO has initiated partnership with media organizations as key players in HIV&AIDS Information and Knowledge Management and communication, by organizing and facilitating dialogue discussions between the media and other CSOs to explore possibilities of partnership in HIV response. Today a working relationship has been formed between UNASO and the Uganda Health Communication Alliance to drive this agenda forward.
  1. UNASO has mobilized ASOs to participate in the development of the new national HIV&AIDS Strategic Plan, 2011 -2015. The ASOs participated in various technical working Groups on HIV Prevention, M&E, Care and Treatment, Social Support, and Systems Strengthening.


Dr. Peter Kitonsa Ssebanja first Executive Director and founder of UNASO

Dr. Ssebanja is one of the founders of UNASO and during his reign as the Executive Director, he faced a lot of challenges but also achieved a lot of targets like attracting over 800 member organizations. Currently UNASO has over 2000 member AIDS service organisation and 52 district networks.  Dr. Ssebanja agreed to take us through the infancy stage of UNASO.

How UNASO came into existence

Let me give you a brief history of Uganda Network of Aids Service Organisations. There were no Non Government Organisations (NGOs) in Uganda which were involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But when a group of 16 people including me decided to start up The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) at Mulago hospital other keys players started mushrooming. Though many people knew about the works of TASO, they were not aware of the other Aids Service Organisations (ASOs).

In 1994, a UK-AIDS Consortium started conducting a collaborative study on the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programmes by NGOS in Sub-Sahara Africa, they even came to Uganda and I was part of the research which later ended in 1995. As we gathered to tell our story, we realized that there were other NGOs who also had stories to tell about the epidemic.

After the study representatives from a group of Civil Society Organisations; TASO, ACET, ACORD, and World Vision decided to come together and form an association party with a common goal. Together with my colleagues we agreed to officially start an umbrella oragnisation in 1996. Initially, we did not have a name for the secretariat but later we had a meeting and came up with UNASO.


I received a lot of encouragements from influential people like Bishop Misaeri Kawuma. Since I was attending meetings of African Council for AIDS Service Organisation (AFRICASO) which was established in 1991 and based in Senegal, I was given a responsibility to start a national network in Uganda. Together with Allan Rwaki from Kenya and Isaac Musaki from Tanzania, I started an East African network.

I received encouragement from the Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS Service Organisations (EANNASO).  This is a regional network comprising of national networks of AIDS Service Organisations (ASOs). EANNASO’s mandate is to facilitate coordination, effective joint advocacy, networking and information sharing among its member networks in Eastern Africa.

First office

When we started UNASO in 1996, we did not have enough funds to rent our own office so UNASO office was in my office at TASO. I thank Mrs. Sofia Monique Mukasa, the former Executive Director of TASO for permitting UNASO services to be operated at TASO offices; she also supported us by giving us the initial funds to buy stationery and also tea for meetings. I was an employee at TASO but at the same time doing part time work for UNASO. I was joined Richard Wamimbi and we started a secretariat.

I worked for UNASO from1996 until 2002 when I resigned because I was going to the UK to study a Masters degree in Public Health. I handed over my position to Samuel Wangalwa.

Initial funds

The first organization which gave us formal funding was Action Aid Uganda; Their Executive Director at that time Anthony Wasswa was very supportive and he gave ush3m which was a very good amount of money by that time.

Experience as Executive Director of UNASO

When we started UNASO, everyone realized that need and magnitude of being coordinated; my colleagues and the executive directors of Aids Service Organisations (ASOs) were willing to be affiliated to a secretariat that governed all ASOs. I must say it was a wonderful experience because member organizations joined UNASO willingly.


By that time my priority was finding funds for the organisaion so that we could be able to rent an office and run it in a normal way. I also concentrated on bringing different ASOs under UNASO. However, I did not do all this alone, I would like to acknowledge the people who made UNASO; Richard Wamimbi of Uganda Women Concern Ministries, David Kabiswa of ACET, Anthony Wasswa, Joyce Kadowe and Elizabeth Ongom of Action Aid Uganda, Sam Wangalwa of Aids Information Center, Benjamin Twefeho of MRC, Stephen Muhindo and Sarah Kutta of Kamwokya Christian Community Center, Juma Ojwang and Cox Sempebwa of IMAU, Dr. Donna Kabatesi and Rashid Mugerwa of THETA, Prof John Rwomushana of Uganda Aids Commission, Bishop  Misaeri Kawuma of UNAIDS and Sophia Monica Mukasa of TASO, Paul Kabunga of ACET.

Achievement as Executive Director of UNASO

My biggest achievement was coming together as a network that governs Aids Services Organisations. My other success was setting up an accounting system for the network, guidelines and policies on how to run the network. We attracted funds from Non Government Organisations like UNAIDS.  Together with Allan Rwaki from Kenya and Isaac Musaki from Tanzania; we were able to set up and manage (EANNASO) and I was elected president because UNASO was already doing well and they wanted us to set an example.

Significant movements/ issues that happened in the HIV and AIDS Sector whilst at UNASO   At that time we were looking at reduction of infections, making sure all patients get treatment, care and counseling and telling people to continue living a positive life.

How the HIV sector has changed

A lot has changed; we now have services like PMTCs, ARVs. And we have combined the fight of HIV/AIDS with that of malaria control. HIV positive people must be malaria free. We have a routine HIV Counseling and Testing. People are more informed about HIV. The stigma might still be there but it has reduced a lot and we have involved HIV positive people in advocating for zero transmissions. We have focused more on polices and care. The CSOs have pushed so much for human rights in that the Parliament of Uganda has now set up a parliamentary committee in charge of HIV/AIDS issues.

Biggest challenge faced

Getting funds for our projects was a huge challenge; we did not have an office. We had a lot of work but less manpower and since we had no salaries for employees, all our workers were volunteers. It was a lot of work for me, as the chairperson of the board.

Best memory about UNASO

It was very pleasing that Aids Service Organistaions realized the need for each other. I was supported by so many people and it was easy to work with EANNASO. Currently EANNASO consists of Kenya, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Tanzania, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, and Uganda. Since Uganda had the most successful network, we were asked for advice.

Being able to register 800 ASOs under UNASO by the time I left and we put up a membership fee but some of the organizations were not paying their fees on time.

Relationship between UNASO Secretariat and the member ASOs

Our relationship was very good and every Aids Service Organisation would contribute to the Newsletter. The Executive directors of the Aids Service Organisation would come to the meetings whenever invited.

  1. What do you see as the future for UNASO? How can the organization improve and grow?

UNASO is in strategic position and since it is a combined voice for all CSOs; whatever UNASO says on behalf of all ASOs, it can be taken as the solid view for all ASOs. If Uganda Aids Commission regards UNASO as a strong body that can disseminate information and also make policies, many more NGOS will want to become part of UNASO. UNASO can look at all acceptable standards of care, treatment of HIV/AIDS positive people and work hand in hand with UAC and standards for advocacy

  1. What would you like to see change within the sector to create lower incidences of new infections and greater access to treatment?

I remember when the infection was so high in Uganda, we used massive campaigns against HIV/AIDS; everyone got involved politicians, religious leaders, teachers, health workers, media and this move helped a lot in reducing the number of infections because people were now aware about the disease and how to prevent it.

  1. Theme for this year’s AGM is: young people and HIV/AIDS – do you have any advice for your people in regards to HIV and AIDS?
  1. If you could change/influence something/or someone significantly to create real change in Uganda in this sector, what would it be?

The account below highlights the key achievements that UNASO has registered over the years in above areas