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Pivoting the m2m model to support clients amid cholera outbreak in Zambia

mothers2mothers (m2m) services in Zambia have been severely impacted by the recent cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 650 people, with over 18,500 cases reported according to the World Health Organization (as of 29th of January 2024) since October 2023. To best support the women, children, adolescents, and families that we work with who are impacted by this new challenge, we have capitalised on our trusted and proven peer-based model and leveraged our eServices to ensure that health education and care are still available for those who need it most. 

Cholera is an acute diarrhoea infection caused by bacteria that is typically spread via contaminated food or water, causing dehydration and resulting in high morbidity and mortality. It has persisted in sub-Saharan Africa partly because of poor sanitation, unreliable water supplies, and worsening socioeconomic conditions. These are the exact communities where m2m works, making it even more important for us to maintain continuity of services.

m2m’s response

Chipata Community, one of the areas supported by m2m in Lusaka, Zambia, where the cholera outbreak has had profound impact.

The outbreak in Zambia has significantly impacted m2m’s community service delivery—but the way we have been able to response demonstrates the power and agility of peer-based and community-led models like the m2m Mentor Mother Model. While the in-person community work of Mentor Mothers is currently paused to minimise exposure risks, including household visits and support groups, m2m has successfully augmented our capabilities to reach our clients virtually, through calls and text messages, chatbots, and WhatsApp groups—building on the trusted and long-lasting relationships that Mentor Mothers have built with their communities. This has enabled us to ensure uninterrupted access to health education and maintain vital services for those who need them most under the current circumstances.  

m2m Mentor Mother, Bupe Sinkala, who works in Lusaka, explains:  

m2m Mentor Mother, Bupe Sinkala, reviewing client appointment diaries to identify clients who missed clinic appointments and providing supportive reminders to through calls and text messages ensure clients attend their appointments.

“When we call or text our clients with reminders about their clinic appointments and treatment, we also now educate them about cholera. They trust us, and so we encourage them to collect safe drinking water from government distribution points, and wash and sanitise their hands regularly. We emphasise that while cholera is deadly, it can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration solution or intravenous fluids. This is why it is important for them to seek medical care.”

m2m’s response to the outbreak has been swift. m2m Zambia Country Lead—Elijah Mvula, has led his team to ensure service delivery to clients is minimally impacted. The technical team introduced standard operating procedures at all m2m sites to enhance immediate reporting of any suspected cholera case with initial first aid management.  

“We currently have five sites that are in high-risk areas and we have ensured that all m2m sites have been supplied with gloves and hand sanitisers. Mentor Mothers have strengthened the information, education, and communication package with emphasis on hygiene and sanitation, and are working hard to ensure no one is left behind,” says Elijah.  

Further challenges

In addition to the current cholera outbreak, Zambia is experiencing a rise in cases of coronavirus, with at least 110 new cases recorded during the first week of January 2024. “We continue to monitor COVID-19 trends to ensure we respond swiftly and effectively. Right now, we can confirm that all m2m staff are vaccinated for COVID-19 and we continue to monitor the viral load for our Mentor Mothers as a routine activity. We’ve also distributed face masks in addition to the hand sanitisers,” adds Elijah.  

As we navigate these challenging times, m2m reaffirms our unwavering commitment to providing essential health services, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of improved health outcomes for our clients in Zambia. It is models like m2m’s that show the power that community-led and peer-based initiatives can have, especially during challenging times.

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