In the developed world, daily care and drugs have turned HIV/AIDS into a manageable condition, and mothers with HIV rarely, anymore, pass it along to their babies. (Take a minute to be grateful for that.) But in developing nations where access to healthcare is difficult, drugs and day-to-day care and support are harder to come by, and rates of maternal transmission of HIV are much higher. Doctor Mitchell Besser works in Cape Town, South Africa, and in 2001, he began a program called mothers2mothers that aims to close this gap, by drawing on the power of community support.
Mothers2mothers employs HIV-positive moms themselves to complement the work of doctors and nurses. After a two-month training, mentor mothers work with other moms with HIV to help them understand how to keep from transmitting HIV to their babies. Equally important, the members of mothers2mothers connect at an emotional level with other moms, offering the support of true peers, helping to reduce the social stigma around HIV diagnosis, and helping each mom stick to her own treatment regiment so she can watch her baby grow. From its beginnings in 2001, mothers2mothers now operates in 600 clinics in seven countries; 1,600 mentor mothers "touch" an estimated 200,000 patients a month -- accounting for 20 per cent of the HIV-positive patients in Africa.