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The blog


mothers2mothers: Saving mothers’ and children’s lives in Africa, and empowering women through an innovative peer support network

Women's WorldWide Web


In celebration of the dedication, love, and resilience of mothers everywhere, Women’s Worldwide Web proudly features the life-saving work of mothers2mothers.


This introductory feature will shortly be followed by a vivid, in-depth interview with Robin Smalley, Co-Founder of mothers2mothers.


mothers2mothers' Mentor Mothersmothers2mothers’ pioneering mentor program is saving the lives of countless women and children in Africa by providing education, medical care and support for HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers.


Operating in nine African countries, this inspiring non-governmental organization works to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV and to help mothers living with HIV and AIDS to stay healthy and live vibrant lives by increasing their access to life-sustaining medical treatment and education about reproductive health, family planning and nutrition.


m2m’s success is based on an innovative peer support network: m2m recruits women from local communities and trains them to become Mentor Mothers who work side-by-side with doctors and nurses as paid members of health-care facilities, supporting and educating HIV-positive women to take care of themselves and their babies.


Mitch Besser, Co-Founder of mothers2mothersm2m was founded in South Africa in 2001 by Harvard-trained obstetrician and gynecologist Mitch Besser, who saw that, while medications existed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, many women were not accessing them. He recognized that the most powerful resource, in addressing this problem, was the women themselves. Mothers who were living with HIV and had received PMTCT care were trained by m2m so that they could, in turn, provide crucial psychosocial support, education and care for other mothers living with HIV.


m2m’s co-founder Robin Smalley explains how mentor mothers, arriving in the program with minimal literacy and numeracy skills, are trained in issues relating to HIV/AIDS, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, feeding and nutrition, family planning, reproductive health, medications and counseling. For a young pregnant woman with HIV, the mentor mother is there (as Smalley says): ‘to put her arms around her and say, “You’re not alone. I’m positive, too, and my baby was born negative—and yours can be too.”’


HIV-positive mother holding her babySince 90% of the world’s HIV-positive babies are born in sub-Saharan Africa and 75% of the world’s HIV-positive pregnant women live in Africa, m2m’s work is vital. It now has almost 800 sites, employing approximately 1,750 HIV-positive mothers as mentors, and providing care for about 20% of the world’s population of HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers. In recognition of its remarkable work—saving children’s lives, improving maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS—m2m received the 2010 Global Health Council’s Best Practices in Global Health Award.


Inspiringly, many of m2m’s Mentor Mothers go on to work beyond the m2m programs, remaining involved in their communities as health care workers and counselors, often going back to school to earn advanced degrees. ‘In a country like Swaziland,’ Robin Smalley says, ‘Approximately 70% of our graduating Mentor Mothers are going on to employment in related fields.’


Tremendously uplifting stories abound at m2m, thanks to the resilience and resourcefulness of the mentor mothers: ‘the amazing women,’ Smalley says, proudly, ‘Thanks to whom our model is such a success.’

© Women’s WorldWide Web 2011


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Meet the editor-in-chief

Andrea Ashworth

Andrea is an author, journalist and academic. She has studied, taught or held fellowships at Oxford, Yale and Princeton. Andrea has written fiction and non-fiction for numerous publications, including Vogue, Granta, The Times, The TLS and The Guardian. She is the author of the award-winning and internationally bestselling memoir "Once in a House on Fire". Andrea works to raise awareness about domestic violence and to promote literacy and education.