Children's Health HIV and AIDS HIV Prevention HIV Treatment Reproductive Health Women's Health

Mentor mums for pregnant HIV+ women

Written by Health-e News

In a first for South Africa, a national PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) hotline, manned by HIV positive women who are part of the mothers2mothers (m2m) organization, has been launched.

The hotline will be included in a storyline of Soul City, one of the country’€™s most watched educational television programmes, to promote it.

Soul City will run a storyline where one of their lead characters, Connie (an openly HIV positive woman played by an openly HIV positive actress) joins m2m as a site co-ordinator. Through the storyline, information about PMTCT will be disseminated and at the end of the show the programme will steer women to m2m’€™s PMTCT helpline (0800-MOTHERS).

Unlike many typical AIDS hotlines this one will be staffed by m2m mentor mothers, women who themselves are HIV positive and have been through the PMTCT process and had healthy HIV negative babies.

It is medically fairly simple to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies, which is why pediatric AIDS has virtually been eliminated in developed countries. Yet more children are born with HIV in an African clinic in a month than in the US, Canada and England combined in a year.

Even though treatment it is increasingly available in large parts of Africa, most HIV positive pregnant women still fail to get the simple treatment that could keep their babies from contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

In South Africa, where up to 35% of pregnant women are HIV positive, and 70-80% of pregnant women could have access PMTCT treatment, only 20% of them take advantage of it.
Experts believe that a big part of it boils down to a lack of knowledge ‘€“ women don’t know it’s available or that it’s effective.

They believe that if they test HIV positive, it’s a death sentence for themselves and their babies. Another factor is fear, which comes from lack of support and education. Research has shown that women are so afraid of the implications of revealing their HIV status that they wind up living with risk and denial rather than taking the few simple steps that could protect their babies’ health.
This is where mothers2mothers comes in.

M2m is an education, psychosocial mentoring and support organization.

The programme identifies and trains HIV positive mothers who have recently gone through PMTCT programs.

The women go through a rigorous curriculum, and return to clinics and maternity wards as Mentor Mothers. Mentor Mothers educate expecting and new HIV-positive mothers, supporting them as they confront decisions that mean the difference between their and their babies’€™ illness and health.

M2m complements already existing PMTCT programs by providing women with support and information about HIV and HIV treatment, ante-natal training, birth control and STD counseling, training in how to deal with stigma and disclosure to family, and best feeding practices for her baby.

m2m also ensures that mothers completing pregnancy-related care are linked with on-going HIV/AIDS and treatment programs.

The programme is one of the fastest growing public health organizations in the world, growing from a dozen local sites a few years ago, to where they are today: 100 sites in SA right now, employing over 400 HIV positive women. This will be doubled in the next year while similarly expanding m2m’€™s reach to another half-dozen of Africa’s hardest-hit countries.

Spokesperson Linda Codron believes they have been able to scale up so rapidly and successfully because of an unusual combination of simplicity on the ground with sophistication at the organizational level.

‘€œAt the grass grassroots level, our model is incredibly simple and replicable: training mothers who then help other mothers.

‘€œBut at an institutional level, we deliver public health strategies with a private sector mind-set. Very atypically for an organization like this, we’re filled with high-level people from the private sector, as well as senior public health professionals from outside that industry’s mainstream. While we maintain our idealism and our vision, we approach service delivery like a business,’€ Codron explained.

Mentor Mothers run the call centre from 6pm to midnight. Recorded information is available the rest of the time. Call 0800-MOTHERS (0800-668

4377). More information can be found at ‘€“ Health-e News Service.

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Health-e News

Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews