Guiding Women and the World to Halt Pediatric HIV by 2015

mothers2mothers works to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV – and sustain the long-term health of women and children – by addressing the needs of HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers. Its simple and effective “Mentor Mother” model is a critical part of the global effort to eliminate new cases of pediatric AIDS by 2015 and keep mothers alive. To reach this goal, mothers2mothers is working to help developing countries integrate this innovative model into national health systems.

Who are the Mentor Mothers? Meet two courageous women, both living with HIV/AIDS themselves, working for mothers2mothers and mentoring expectant and new mothers on how to keep themselves healthy and their babies HIV-free. Matseliso, a mother of three from Lesotho, and Jackline, a mother of one from Kenya, recently participated in a special communications training supported by Johnson & Johnson, to empower them to become global advocates for HIV-positive women and the Mentor Mother model. Johnson & Johnson is a long-time partner of mothers2mothers. To learn more, visit m2m.org or follow @m2mtweets.

Jackline’s Story

Like many women in my small rural community, I discovered mothers2mothers shortly after learning that I was pregnant. During my first prenatal care visit at a health clinic in Kenya, I tested positive for HIV. After the initial shock, I remember crying very bitterly. I just couldn’t believe the results were mine – it was as if my life was ending that day, and I was unsure of what the diagnosis meant for my baby.

Right away, I was referred to mothers2mothers at the clinic where I received prenatal care. I joined a support group led by local Mentor Mothers – other women who had gone through the same experience and are specially trained to show women with HIV that they can keep their babies free from the virus.

Those Mentors also helped me disclose my HIV status to my husband, which I found to be the most difficult barrier to overcome. I see women face the same problem every day. Due to the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV, women who tell their families about their diagnosis often risk rejection from their homes, and could be left unable to provide for themselves and their children. For women living in poverty, the stigma of HIV can be especially damaging because they are unable to adhere to medication or make the long trip to a health care center without being noticed.

Fortunately, mothers2mothers was there to help me disclose my status, stay healthy during my pregnancy and deliver a baby free from HIV. As a mothers2mothers employee myself now, I work to diffuse stigma in my community, acting as a role model for other women living with HIV. We bring them together so that they can see that they are not really alone, and they can share both their challenges and their happiness with one another.

Matseliso’s Story

I remember very clearly when mothers2mothers first opened a support group in my town. Before mothers2mothers, I remember many babies being born with HIV – now, it hardly ever happens.

mothers2mothers works to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV by employing mothers with HIV to teach other women how to keep their babies healthy. This system, called the Mentor Mother model, has allowed our organization to reach 20 percent of all HIV-positive pregnant women in the world.

I am a m2m Site Coordinator at a local clinic, and provide education and support to new mothers and pregnant women who, like me, are living with HIV. The doctors and nurses here are so busy that without Mentor Mothers, no one at the clinic would be available to counsel a young woman who has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Every day, our Mentors teach other women about infant feeding options, medication, safer sex, and fighting stigma by disclosing their status to family members. Every woman who comes to my office shares some part of the experiences that I had. I tell them that all three of my children are HIV-negative, and theirs can be, too.

At my clinic, I have noticed that women face particularly strong stigma and discrimination from their in-laws. It can be difficult for a woman to tell her husband’s parents that she has HIV, because they often assume that she brought the disease into the marriage. If she can’t tell her family, she is less likely to seek care for herself and her baby. To help fight misconceptions like this in the community, our clinic staff began providing HIV education to patients who come to the clinic for hypertension and diabetes workshops. This approach has helped us educate the older members of the family about testing and treatment, and to show them why the stigma is harmful. When I see in-laws coming to collect milk for their grandchildren, I know I am one step closer to accomplishing my mission.

mothers2mothers was recently profiled on Good Morning America as part of the Million Moms Challenge, a partnership between ABC News and the United Nations Foundation that aims to connect mothers around the world. For the first 100,000 people to join the Million Moms Challenge, Johnson & Johnson will donate $100,000 to help support maternal and child health.