“Mentor Mothers taught me how to keep my baby free of HIV. Things may have turned out so differently if I did not have their help. It is now my privilege to help other mothers have HIV-negative babies.” – Emily, a 24-year-old mother of two in Kenya, living with HIV

 

Mother Mentors

A young woman enters a clinic in a developing country in hopes of hearing only good news of her anticipated child’s birth when she is presented with an unexpected fact, she is HIV positive. This result can have dire social and health consequences for both her and her future child, but in attempts to avoid the familial backlash and social stigmatization, she decides to keep this a secret. Sex is a taboo in many parts of the world making reproductive health, care during pregnancy (pre- and post- natal), and safe delivery mechanisms significantly more crucial for those who need it the most. Decreasing taboo and bringing behavior changes that fit into many different cultures is one of the most difficult aspects of increasing maternal health.

Maternal deaths around the world take approximately 800 women from their babies every day. 40 million women give birth at home without the help of a skilled birth attendant, midwife, or physician. And out of all the maternal death, 99% occur in developing countries. According to the World State of Mothers the first day of life is the most dangerous for both mothers and their babies. It becomes increasingly difficult throughout the first year when resources are scarce, accessibility to proper health care is limited or non-existent, and social norms cause women to lead a life of silence when it comes to sex. Solutions to such issues must be culturally sensitive in nature, and such solutions can be readily seen in the effects of the mother mentors model. Mother mentors pair women who have already had children with first time moms, providing knowledge while empowering both the mentor and mentee. Because the contact is woman to woman the effects of the cultural barriers and taboos are decreased. They can do everything from answer questions about healthcare and reproduction to schedule and attend prenatal appointments. Often they work with or alongside healthcare workers, and help bridge the gap between a mom and previously inaccessible healthcare system.

Various organizations and local communities around the world have already begun to implement this type of culturally sensitive outreach. One example is the Madres Tutelares (also known as Resource Mothers) located in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Adapted by Physicians for Peace, the program was inspired by a Virginia based home visiting model. The women serve as leaders within their communities and as mentors to pregnant teenagers within the barrios. “Their work does not stop at prenatal care or infant development milestones. In fact, the Resource Mothers are equipped to discuss topics including the importance of receiving a sonogram and blood tests, attending pre-natal visits, breastfeeding, and HIV prevention.”

Another example is Mothers2Mothers (M2M), a program originating from South Africa providing care, education, and awareness for pregnant women. M2M pairs HIV positive women with expecting mothers to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. M2M trains women and employs them back into localized communities thus providing vital health information to women that have the greatest need. “The women Mentor Mothers serve are more likely to take antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and protect their health. Further, the infants of mothers in m2m’s programme are more likely to receive ARVs to protect them from HIV infection and be administered an early infant diagnosis test to determine their status than other infants born to HIV-positive mothers. These outcomes have been shown to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV and have a tangible, positive impact on maternal and child health.”

If you would like to support these models feel free to connect with the organizations!

Mothers2Mothers: Twitter, Facebook, Website

Madres Tutelares, Physicians for Peace: Twitter, Facebook, Website