Positive Women Living Positively
“Mind over Matter” is a pithy way people talk about the importance of a good attitude. But achieving high levels of psychosocial wellbeing for mothers2mothers’ (m2m) clients is critical to their long-term health. That is why we are so delighted to share one of the significant findings of the External Evaluation and Cost-Benefit Analysis of m2m’s programme in Uganda (implemented as part of the USAID-funded JSI Research & Training Institute Inc’s STAR-EC Project).
In simple terms… compared to women who do not have access to m2m’s Mentor Mothers, women who receive education and peer support from Mentor Mothers and other women in their support group are more likely to develop attitudes, beliefs, and skills necessary to counter the negative cultural and social beliefs about HIV that are so prevalent within their communities. As a result, they are better able to adopt healthier behaviours and access critical medical services to protect their babies from HIV infection and stay healthy.
Researchers of the Uganda study examined the impact Mentor Mothers have on psychosocial wellbeing by conducting a survey among 796 pregnant women and new mothers accessing PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) services between June 2012 and March 2014 at 31 health centres with an m2m programme and 31 health centres with no m2m presence.
Read a summary of the study for more details.
To better understand what this means for our clients, we asked Silindile Shozi, a Mentor Mother who runs m2m’s programme at Turton Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, as well as two of her clients, about the improvements they see every day.
“My clients seem to be more willing to accept their HIV status after being exposed to Mentor Mothers. Of course this does not happen overnight, some take a number of visits to m2m before they are willing to disclose their status in a support group. What I like most is that when they finally accept their status, they stand a better chance to disclose and adhere to their medication, which results in them living healthier lives.
As Mentor Mothers, we build trust with our clients by disclosing to them and sharing our life stories. When I hear them ask, “how did you do it?,” I know for sure that the mother wants to learn. I give it my all when I educate my clients because I know that that is where their journey to living long lives begins, in that short question. In the support groups, they make friends and find sisters; they find people who will listen without judging. Slowly but surely, they become empowered enough to seek more information and make informed choices.
After meeting with Mentor Mothers, clients are more likely to disclose, start, and adhere to treatment, practice safe sex, encourage partners to come for a test and breastfeed exclusively. See, all these things are linked to acceptance of one’s status, which I think happens faster when a client meets with other women who have been on the same road as her.” — Silindile Shozi, m2m Mentor Mother, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
“[When I first came to m2m as a client,] I did not think there would be a day when I would be able to talk freely about my HIV status. When I was first diagnosed with HIV, I thought it would be the end of my life. I did not even try to imagine what my first child would look like because I knew he would be very sick and thin.
The Mentor Mothers taught me about preventing transmission of HIV to my baby. They told me that if I took my treatment correctly for the rest of my life then I would really have the rest of my life ahead of me. They made me believe that I could really have a healthy baby, which gave me so much joy. I cannot thank them enough for just talking to me because when I sit back and think, it’s not that I have never heard what they were telling me, but it made more sense hearing it from someone who has been through it all.
Not everyone knows that I am HIV-positive. Yes, I will not disclose to the whole world just yet, but I am not scared of people finding out about my status. Anyone can have HIV so why should I be ashamed that I also got it? I am not proud that I have HIV but I am proud that I have found a way to live with the virus. If I will be scared of people, then I will not be able to take my treatment correctly or go to my appointments at the clinic and that will only harm me and my family, not the people I would be scared of.” — Thembi, m2m client from Portshepston, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
“When I first came to m2m I was afraid that I would infect my baby with HIV…. Mentor Mothers told me that I could protect my baby by taking my treatment correctly and practicing safer sex. Taking treatment was not going to be a problem, but before I could start using condoms I had to disclose to my partner. Thankfully, I was taught well and so when I found courage to disclose to my partner all was okay. He understood and was happy when I said we should not blame each other but find a way forward together. My firstborn is now six years old and he is HIV negative. I have a one-month-old daughter who I am still waiting to test. I am not scared of taking her to the test because I have full faith in all that I have done; I know I did all that Silindile – my Mentor Mother – has taught me.
Today I look forward to the rest of our lives. I know that we will be together for a very long time without fear of becoming sick from HIV. It is not HIV that will kill me; it will be anything else but HIV.” — Thokozani, m2m client, Portshepston, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa