“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
It was true in 1640 when this phrase was first written, and it was validated nearly 470 years later when, in 2008, mothers2mothers (m2m) stepped up with our determined will to find a way to support Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), a Southern African nation among those worst affected by the AIDS epidemic.
This September, m2m closed our operations in Eswatini after 11 years of helping to raise the future in this Kingdom of 1.4 million residents. As Eswatini’s AIDS crisis is “approaching epidemic control” status, the U.S. Agency for International Development—m2m’s sole funder in the country—refocused its financing resources on certain key populations not currently covered by our programming. They have thus discontinued funding for mothers2mothers in Eswatini, leading to us ceasing operations.
Driven by an unshakeable belief in the power of African women to help those living with HIV, m2m’s Mentor Mothers and other staff never once gave up during those 11 years on their will to tirelessly work in health centres and surrounding communities throughout the country to provide a full range of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health services. In total, our Mentor Mothers supported more than 500,000 clients in Eswatini, or an average of 45,000-plus women, children, and adolescents annually.
Our biggest win? When m2m began working in Eswatini in 2008, approximately 2,300 children under age 14 contracted HIV each year—usually from their mothers during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Today, that figure is below 1,000, and—having achieved virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission among our enrolled clients in the country for the past five years—we are proud to have played a role in delivering this progress.
Eswatini also played a key part in helping m2m evolve our peer mentor service delivery model. It was here that m2m first launched integrated early childhood development services, which have subsequently been rolled out in three other m2m countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
In a message to m2m staff members worldwide, our Chief Operating Officer Chad Rathner commented: “Although we are saddened by the closure of our programme in Eswatini, we are also extremely proud of our achievements and thankful to the amazing team who drove the m2m mission and vision there for more than a decade. We feel privileged to have had all our Eswatini colleagues as part of our team.”
Indeed, while approximately 200 m2m employees were affected by the closure, they diligently connected our clients to other health service providers during the transition—reflecting the selfless, dedicated spirit instilled in each of our more than 2,200 team members located on three continents.
There’s another well-known phrase that says “when one door closes, another opens.” We are actively looking for new funding opportunities and hope to re-start operations in Eswatini before long. We can’t wait to open that next door and continue to deliver health, hope, and an HIV-free generation in this evolving nation.