mothers2mothers (m2m) was born in 2001 at a time of crisis. The number of new HIV infections in South Africa was at its peak, and a potent cocktail of stigma, fear, and lack of information meant that most HIV-positive pregnant women could not access the treatment required to stay healthy and prevent their unborn children from contracting HIV.
Dr. Mitch Besser, a medical doctor volunteering in one of Cape Town’s busiest hospitals, hit on an idea. His plan was to employ former patients who had successfully accessed and adhered to treatment and given birth to an HIV-free child as peers called “Mentor Mothers” to help others walk this same path.
m2m started at one site in Cape Town, South Africa, and over the first several years, its programme expanded in South Africa. Then with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Johnson & Johnson, and other funders, m2m grew its programme across sub-Saharan Africa. We also evolved our model, most significantly by introducing a community component in 2014, where Mentor Mothers go door-to-door to support women and families to access essential health services.
Fast-forward more than 20 years and m2m now operates at hundreds of health centres and communities in ten African nations, and has reached almost 15 million pregnant women, new mothers, and children. We have also leveraged our model and the strong relationships Mentor Mothers build both with nurses and doctors at health centres and with their clients to deliver integrated primary health care services that help entire families thrive—including HIV prevention, care and treatment, services, education and screening for Non-Communicable Diseases, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as family planning, nutrition support and referrals for other vital services. We ensure our clients start and stay in care.
What is more, we’ve achieved all of this while creating jobs for nearly 12,000 African women living with HIV, who might otherwise have been among society’s most marginalised.
Yet, even with all of this growth and evolution, the core of our model has not changed—women using shared experiences to create health and hope for other women and families in their communities.
Listen to Mitch reflect on the HIV epidemic when he first arrived in Cape Town and the early days of m2m:
Founding Mentor Mother Elaine Maane talks about how m2m’s peer mentor approach first began.
Gloria Ncanywa, one of our first clients and Mentor Mothers, explains how m2m helped mothers overcome the challenges of testing positive for HIV.
m2m Co-founder Robin Smalley shares what inspired her to join m2m and why mothers are at the heart of our success.
Professor Zephne Ven Der Spuy reflects on the height of the HIV pandemic and m2m Founder Mitch Besser’s solution to tackle it.