Mitch spoke about the history of perinatal HIV in South Africa, noting that while tremendous progress has been made to reduce paediatric AIDS infections over the last decade, healthcare centres are still understaffed, leaving doctors and nurses with little time to spend with a woman who has just tested positive for HIV.“With more than 37 million people living with HIV in the world, sub-Saharan Africa bears the highest disease burden with 26 million of those living in the region but with only 3% of the world’s doctors, which puts strain in the medical systems,” Mitch said in his presentation.
By employing mothers living with HIV, m2m alleviates the burden on medical staff in the clinics it operates in by taking over the task of educating the women on medication and tests available to them and how to adhere to treatment. In 2015, m2m virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV among its clients according to UNAIDS guidelines, with an average transmission rate of only 2.1%.Gloria Ncanywa, who was one of the organisation’s first Mentor Mothers and now is a District Coordinator for m2m in the Western Cape, explained to the audience how m2m has evolved in recent years to educate entire families about HIV and keep them healthy. “When m2m started, our focus was only on the mother and her unborn child but over the years we have adopted a family-centred approach. We no longer work only in the clinics but have Community Mentor Mothers who go out to households to educate the entire family about HIV. They ensure that the male partners also go to clinics to get tested, and that older children who were born with HIV have access to treatment and are adherent. They do early childhood stimulation for the young children to ensure they reach their developmental milestones and refer those who don’t for care. Over and above that, they educate adolescent girls and young women on risks associated with unprotected sex, the importance of delaying their first sexual encounters, importance of safe sex practices, and HIV testing,” she said. Nozi Samela, who also has moved to m2m Head Quarters as a Communications Associate, spoke about her personal experiences as a mother living with HIV. “When I was first diagnosed with HIV I was afraid and thought it was the end of my life,” she told the session. Nozi joined the m2m support groups where she learned more about HIV and how to protect her baby. “When the nurse told me my child was HIV negative I suddenly was confused as to what it meant. Normally negative is a bad thing so she had to say it in simple terms that my baby DID NOT have HIV. I was so happy; I knew I have to do what was done for me by m2m for other mothers.”
Nozi joined the programme as a Mentor Mothers and has over the last decade moved through different positions within the organisation. She says her biggest wish is for all mothers and medical professionals in the world to have access to Mentor Mothers. “This will give the mothers the platform to learn how to stay healthy and learn to live positive lives. And it will also give the doctors and nurses time to do what they were trained for; providing medical care”.
At the end of their presentation the m2m team got a standing ovation from the audience of medical doctors from all around the world.