Significant progress has been made over the last decade towards the elimination of paediatric AIDS. Yet each day, 600 children are still infected with HIV. Almost 90% of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and most acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
It’s unacceptable… it’s tragic… because it’s almost entirely preventable.
Effective and inexpensive medical interventions are available that can keep mothers and babies healthy. Without these interventions, up to 40% of infants born to HIV-positive mothers will contract the virus. With treatment, that number can be reduced to 2%.
However, most health centres in sub-Saharan Africa are severely understaffed which leaves doctors and nurses with only minutes to give a pregnant woman her HIV diagnosis and explain all of the drugs and tests she must adhere to in order to keep herself healthy and protect her baby from HIV. The stigma of HIV that is prevalent in many African communities causes women to live in fear, making it difficult for them to get the care they need.
What We Do and Why
mothers2mothers (m2m) is changing that. We train, employ, and empower Mentor Mothers, who are mothers living with HIV, to work alongside doctors and nurses in understaffed health centres as members of the healthcare team. In one-on-one and group sessions, Mentor Mothers provide essential health education and psychosocial support to other HIV-positive mothers on how they can protect their babies from HIV infection, and keep themselves and their families healthy. Mentor Mothers’ ties to the community and first-hand knowledge of HIV makes them highly effective peer mentors.
The women Mentor Mothers serve are more likely to take antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and protect their health. Further, the infants of mothers in m2m’s programme are more likely to receive ARVs to protect them from HIV infection, and be administered an early infant diagnosis test to determine their status compared to other infants born to HIV-positive mothers. These outcomes have been shown to have a positive impact on the health of mothers and their children.
m2m’s programme also has a positive impact on the Mentor Mothers themselves. The employment enables Mentor Mothers to gain financial security for themselves and their family. By virtue of being professionalised, Mentor Mothers become role models in health centres and their communities, putting a face to empowered, strong, and healthy HIV-positive women, and thereby reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
The Mentor Mother Model has been identified as a key strategy in the United Nations Global Plan to eliminate paediatric AIDS by 2015 and keep mothers alive.
m2m advances four of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that most directly affect the health of women and children.
Expanding Our Reach
While Mentor Mothers are still primarily focused on preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child and promoting maternal and infant health, m2m is enhancing the scope of our work to enable clients and their families improve their overall health. Mentor Mothers are currently being equipped with the technical knowledge and skills to offer education, support, and referrals on a wide range of health issues important to our clients. In order to reach even more women and their families, m2m is moving its Mentor Mother services out into communities. We are also formalising the education and support Mentor Mothers give to HIV-negative pregnant women and new mothers to help them stay healthy and HIV-free.