According to UNAIDS, about 330,000 new infants are infected with HIV every year, even though it’s scientifically possible to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Thirty-five percent of these infections occur in South Africa and Nigeria alone. To address this, Cape Town-based NGO mothers2mothers employs and trains HIV-positive mothers as “Mentor Mothers” who work alongside nurses and doctors in clinics, providing psychosocial support to pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV. The organization’s ultimate aim is to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Long-time friends Mitch and Gene followed different paths: Mitch becoming a doctor in the developing world and Gene became a successful business man. In 2000, Mitch moved to South Africa where he saw women come in for their first prenatal visit, test positive for HIV and flee the clinic, never to return. Those who did stay received little education about their disease. Worst of all, Mitch was horrified to discover that 30 to 40% of these women gave birth to HIV-positive babies. Working without pay, Mitch launched m2m to provide the support services common in the U.S. but absent in Africa. Meanwhile, his old friend Gene, now a media industry senior executive, had been involved in HIV/AIDS issues for nearly 20 years. Based on his very personal experience as a gay man living through the worst of the epidemic in the U.S., Gene was struck by the parallels he saw in South Africa to the early days of HIV/AIDS in the U.S., when the epidemic was ignored because its most visible targets were marginalized groups. He also saw Mitch running m2m on a shoestring and realized that his (Gene’s) business skills were needed to take m2m to scale. Gene moved to Cape Town and, together, they expanded m2m’s model to 600 sites and employing more than 1,500 HIV-positive mothers. As of Sept. 20, 2012, Frank Beadle de Palomo is CEO and Gene is no longer with m2m.
IMPACT AS OF JAN. 2013:
- mothers2mothers operates in nine sub-Saharan countries, employing 1500 Mentor Mothers in 600 sites. They work with almost 250,000 HIV-positive clients.
- The United Nations’ Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive highlights the Mentor Mother model as an effective concept for under-resourced health systems.
- m2m pairs an HIV-positive woman who is pregnant with a Mentor Mother. Mentor Mothers are mothers living with HIV who are trained and employed to guide and support other women as they navigate pregnancy, childbirth and rearing. The women Mentor Mothers serve are more likely to disclose their HIV status, to pursue HIV treatment and testing, and to deliver their babies in health care facilities than mothers who do not have a Mentor Mother.
- Because of their expertise and employment, Mentor Mothers are respected role models in their community, challenging HIV stigma and discrimination. Mentor Mothers also alleviate over-burdened health centers.
- mothers2mothers in 2012 joined Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, Barbara Lee, D-CA, and James McDermott, D-WA in announcing a new bipartisan House resolution: “Recognizing the Potential for the Virtual Elimination of Pediatric HIV and AIDS and Keeping HIV Positive Mothers Alive.”