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Out in Force at AIDS 2016

ECD Mentor Mother Thobile talks with Graca Machel before their panel on improving outcomes for young children affected by HIV/AIDS

ECD Mentor Mother Thobile talks with Graca Machel before their panel on improving outcomes for young children affected by HIV/AIDS

mothers2mothers (m2m) had a busy week at AIDS 2016, the world’s largest global gathering on HIV/AIDS, that took place this summer in Durban, South Africa. m2m Mentor Mothers, adolescent Peer Mentors, and staff participated in panels, oral and poster presentations, and activities throughout the week, including a session featuring some of our first Mentor Mothers and their adolescent children discussing the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic among young people, plus an early 15th birthday celebration.

Co-sponsored by m2m and Johnson & Johnson to honour our 10-year partnership, the Lives Changed on the Way to Zero session explored why adolescents, particularly adolescent girls, are vulnerable to HIV infection and what can be done to help them make responsible choices and protect themselves and others from HIV infection.

Babalwa speaking on panel with her daughter Anathi (at right)

Babalwa speaks on panel with her daughter Anathi (at right)

This issue hits particularly close to home for m2m, since many of our original Mentor Mothers and clients now have adolescent children. Mothers like Babalwa Mbono, who discovered she was HIV positive when pregnant with her daughter, Anathi, in 2001. She received education and support from m2m’s Mentor Mothers to protect Anathi from HIV and told moderator, Zolani Mahola, lead singer of the South African music group Freshlyground, how she speaks openly with her daughter, now 13 years old, about HIV and safe sex, but still worries about her. “Now I face the road of watching that little baby I had almost 14 years ago venture out into the world on her own. There are so many challenges and temptations for her. When she was young, I could control what she did, who she played with, what risks she was exposed to. Now I can only stand on the side and watch and pray,” she said. (Read their interview with The Guardian)

Amanda sharing her story with audience

Amanda shares her story

Also participating in the session were three of m2m’s Peer Mentors in KwaZulu-Natal, who educate adolescents in the community about HIV and sexual health, linking them to nearby clinics for health services and treatment through the DREAMS initiative funded by USAID. The Peer Mentors discussed how important it is for adolescents to have someone close to their age to talk to, since it is difficult for many young people in their communities to talk about HIV and sex at home. Peer Mentor Amanda, age 22, told the audience, “Whatever they have done, I have done it too. And I won’t judge them for that. I just help them to make better choices for their lives.”

m2m Mentor Mothers and staff spoke on a number of other panels that were organised by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, South Africa Department of Health, UNICEF, and World Health Organization.

Capping off the week, m2m Peer Mentor Sanelisiwe, along with other International AIDS Society youth ambassadors, met with Prince Harry and his Sentebale co-Founder Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to discuss HIV stigma and testing among youth. And not to be outdone, Mentor Mothers from KwaZulu-Natal came out in force for an early 15th birthday celebration, singing and dancing in front of our booth in the Global Village.

Here are some images of the week:

Lives Changed on the Way to Zero Photo Credit: Jonathan Burton, on behalf of Johnson & Johnson

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