Working toward sustainability: Transitioning HIV programs from a USA-based organization to a local partner in Zimbabwe

PLoS One. 2022 Nov 10;17(11):e0276849. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276849. eCollection 2022.


Background: Despite the history of United States of America (USA)-based partners implementing global health programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), future models for sustainable healthcare rely on local country ownership and leadership. Transition is the process of shifting programs towards country ownership, where local stakeholders plan, manage, and deliver health programs. Transition is not a singular event but a process which may include a phase where health programs are led and managed by local entities but still reliant on awards from international partners. This phase is scarcely described yet can impact long-term program sustainability if navigated poorly. This qualitative study examines the transition of Zimbabwe's voluntary medical male circumcision and HIV care and treatment services from management by a USA-based organization, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), to management under a new Zimbabwean organization, the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training and Education Centre for Health (Zim-TTECH). The primary objective of this paper is to explore challenges, successes, and lessons learned during this transition to inform other non-governmental organizations.

Methods: We conducted sixteen virtual, key informant interviews using purposeful sampling, identifying potential participants based on their role in the transition team (leadership, administrative, financial, or human resources) and willingness to consent to the study. We aimed for equal representation from USA-based, I-TECH headquarters staff and Zimbabwe-based, Zim-TTECH staff involved in the transition team. Data were analyzed in Atlas.Ti using deductive and inductive methods, followed by a thematic analysis guided by several frameworks for program transition and organizational change.

Results: Findings suggest five themes to guide transition: 1) Develop a vision and empower leadership for change by delegating clear roles and supporting local ownership; 2) Plan and strategize for transition in a manner that accounts for historical context; 3) Communicate with and inform stakeholders to understand transition perceptions, understand barriers to transition, and enable open communications related to risks and benefits; 4) Engage and mobilize staff by constructing necessary infrastructure and providing technical assistance as needed; and 5) Define short-term and long-term success.

Conclusion: Transition processes were challenged by the local country context, compressed transition timelines, and all-or-nothing measures of transition success. Facilitators included strong staff capacity and a synergistic partnership model between Zim-TTECH and I-TECH. Global funders and international organizations should support local LMIC partners in their pathway to independence by removing restrictions on funding awards, including transitioning ownership mid-stream, and positioning leadership of international awards for in-country entities.

MeSH terms

  • Capacity Building
  • Circumcision, Male*
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Organizations
  • United States
  • Zimbabwe

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.