A mother’s love


We all have a mother, those loving people who bind the family together. mothers2mothers (m2m), a non-profit organisation with its headquarters in Cape Town, uses this specific space in society occupied by women to work with those affected by or infected with HIV.

m2m trains, employs and empowers mothers living with HIV to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies and to improve the health of women, their partners, and families.

mothers2mothers1mothers2mothers trains, employs and empowers mothers living with HIV to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies and much moreCommunications manager Carolyn McEwen explains: “The most inspiring people that we work with are the mothers living with HIV who have dedicated their lives to helping other mothers who are struggling with an HIV diagnosis. These women have found the strength to come to terms with their own HIV status and live productive and positive lives.

“They so generously share their own experiences and struggles with other women in order to help them stay healthy and protect their babies from HIV.”

m2m was founded in 2001 by Mitch Besser, an obstetrician and gynaecologist then working at the University of Cape Town’s Medical Faculty in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology. He noticed that many HIV-positive women did not take advantage of the medical interventions that could prevent transmission of the virus to their babies.

Prompted by this, he used his skills and passion to help design services to meet the needs of pregnant HIV-positive women, and to stop them from infecting their children with the virus, particularly during pregnancy, delivery and infant feeding – a medical practice called prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT).

McEwen says the group’s mission is to work with the health of mothers “by putting them at the heart of improving reproductive, maternal, new-born, and child health. Our Mentor Mother Model empowers mothers living with HIV, through education and employment, as role models to help other women access essential services and medical care.”


m2m has reached more than one million mothers in nine sub-Saharan African countries. It is also affiliated to Mentor Mother programmes in two additional countries, making it a leader in the global effort to eliminate new HIV infections among children and protect the health of mothers. “[To do this work, we] receive funding from governments, multilaterals, foundations and corporations. We also rely on the generosity of individual donors.”

Working alongside doctors and nurses in understaffed health centres as members of the health care team, these mentor mothers provide essential health education and psychosocial support. They are rigorously trained and are paid, which benefits not only their own families but also the community as a whole, and reduces the stigma associated with HIV.

“Women have long been seen as the volunteer workforce of Africa, but we believe people don’t feel valuable unless they are treated like they are valued. The success of the Mentor Mother Model has shown that paying women has multiple benefits. It helps them become financially independent, which in turn makes them role models in their communities, and counters the stigma associated with HIV.”


mothers2mothers2Mentor mothers are also being equipped with the technical knowledge and skills to offer education, support, and referrals on a wide range of health issues (Images: Mothers2Mothers)The m2m team explains how the process works: “Instead of being rushed through a medical appointment, a newly diagnosed woman is taken into a room filled with other HIV-positive women. A mentor mother sits down with the woman and tells her that she is HIV-positive too, is living a healthy and productive life, and that she has children who are HIV-negative.”

The mentor mother takes as much time as is needed to educate the woman about all of the necessary tests and drugs, and then continues to give her information and support every step along the way, advocating on her behalf through pregnancy, labour, birth and early childhood.

South African Academy Award winning actress Charlize Theron was more than willing to lend a helping hand when she recently toured m2m’s site at Discoverers Primary Health Care Clinic in Johannesburg, hosted along with mentor mothers and staff by m2m chief executive Frank Beadle de Palomo.

“She was accompanied by Ashlee George and Lorrie Fair of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, an organisation that helps keep African youth safe from HIV. The visit followed Theron’s meeting with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria to discuss the country’s fight against the HIV and Aids epidemic, in particular the impact it’s having on young women and girls,” says m2m.

The organisation’s main focus in 2013 is implementing its new Enhanced Programme Model that expands the services mentor mothers provide in reproductive, maternal, new-born, child health (RMNCH). It is designed to improve the group’s response to the needs of HIV-positive and HIV-negative women and their families.

While mentor mothers are primarily still focused on preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child and promoting maternal and infant health, they are now also being equipped with the technical knowledge and skills to offer education, support, and referrals on a wide range of health issues important to their clients and their families, and critical to improving overall health. These include cervical cancer, tuberculosis, malaria and nutrition.

The Enhanced Programme Model responds to recommendations in the United Nations Global Plan to improve integration of HIV interventions with RMNCH to ensure sustainability of service delivery and improvement in the survival of mothers and children. For more information on this organisation, visit m2m, or send an email to info@m2m.org.