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Sep 25, 2019

m2m at the United Nations General Assembly

Femia with her son, Blessings
Femia with her son, Blessings

On Monday, September 23rd, United Nations (UN) officials invited leading advocates for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to a high-level meeting to discuss the best path forward for achieving UHC by 2030, as laid out in the priorities at the 2015 UN General Assembly.

mothers2mothers participated in the proceedings, not only because the conversation around UHC is directly connected to our ultimate goal of ending AIDS, but also because we know that our Mentor Mother Model provides a proven framework for successfully establishing a set of interventions aimed at achieving UHC that others int he public health space can look to for guidance. Femia, one of our Mentor Mothers in Malawi, is a great example of someone whose life was dramatically altered by the intervention of a Mentor Mother. 

Femia discovered that she was living with HIV when she was three months pregnant. At that point, she was introduced to a Mentor Mother, and her health journey--and life journey--took a fortunate turn. The peer-to-peer Mentor Mother Model that m2m employes was the intervention that Femia needed. Witht he help of the Mentor Mother, she gained access to care that ensured her ongoing good health before and after the birth of her child who was born HIV-free, thanks to the medical care she received. 

Since 2015, key stakeholders in the discussion around achieving UHC have identified indicators like social and economic empowerment of community health workers as being critical for enabling UHC to take hold globally. At the 2019 World Health Assembly, the Director-General of the WHO indirectly endorsed m2m's Mentor Mother Model, in calling for the need to expand the worldwide number of paid community health workers "to create qualified employment opportunities, in particular for women and youth, thus contributing to job creation, economic development and gender equality." World leaders know that achieving UHC will require a holistic approach that addresses all determinants of health in a meaningful way. And that's exactly what m2m's Mentor Mother Model does. 

By employing mothers living with HIV, m2m uses the Mentor Mother Model to elevate a traditionally disempowered population to the status of community leaders and resource providers. That elevation presents a platform for social and economic empowerment opportunities; consequently, those opportunities create the infrastructure for initiating positive health outcomes among the most marginalized and hard-to-reach communities that the global UHC initiative is hoping to reach. Beyond financially compensating our Mentor Mothers, the Mentor Mother Model also creates an organic buy-in from, both, the Mentor Mother and the client because they have a shared lived experience, which increases the retention rates of our clients and establishes a self-sustaining pipeline of future Mentor Mothers.

Femia’s experience with m2m during and after her pregnancy inspired her to become a Mentor Mother herself, because she wanted to emulate the work of the woman who helped her. She’s a great example of the multiplication effect of our model: each Mentor Mother touches the lives of hundreds—even thousands—of clients, and then a percentage of those clients become Mentor Mothers and go on to reach hundreds and thousands of others who, like Femia, may not have access to the care they need without the help of a Mentor Mother. Since our founding, m2m has hired over 10,000 mothers living with HIV, making us the largest intentional employer of women living with HIV in the world.

Those 10,000+ Mentor Mothers have made enormous strides in their communities in an effort to combat the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS and to eliminate social barriers that living with HIV/AIDS can have for a person in these communities. In addition to their work of destigmatizing HIV/AIDS, our Mentor Mothers have effectively eliminated the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child among our clients each of the last five years, with just a 1.3% transmission rate in 2018. Our data show, unequivocally, that our model works, and that’s why we were a part of the ongoing conversation at this year’s UNGA around successfully achieving UHC by 2030.

UNICEF, UNAIDS, and others have held up m2m’s Mentor Mother Model as best practice because they understand that women like Femia are an essential variable in the equation to solve gaps in health coverage throughout the world. Femia is now a Mentor Mother for m2m, providing the essential interventions for her peers in the same way that a Mentor Mother did for her during her first pregnancy. We’ll keep telling her story and the stories of other Mentor Mothers in hopes of continuing to shape the high-level discussions—like the one that took place at the UNGA on Monday—around successfully achieving UHC by 2030.

Jul 1, 2019

Amplifying the Voices of Girls and Women

The m2m team at Women Deliver.
The m2m team at Women Deliver.

Last week, mothers2mothers (m2m) joined forces with other organisations and individuals committed to achieving equality for girls and women at Women Deliver—the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women, which took place in Vancouver, Canada.

One of the issues we were delighted to see discussed repeatedly at the conference was whether community health workers (CHWs), such as our Mentor Mothers, should be paid for their efforts. These discussions followed on the heels of a resolution approved by delegates at the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly recognising that CHWs have a key role to play in delivering primary healthcare and that “investing in CHWs generates important employment opportunities, especially for women.”

m2m was founded in 2001 on the belief that Mentor Mothers should be paid and, since that time, we have created more than 10,000 jobs for HIV-positive women as CHWs in sub-Saharan Africa. Emma France, m2m’s Global Development and Strategic Engagement Director, pressed the issue at a session hosted by the Pfizer Foundation, saying: “We believe it is critical to women’s status, to all of the things this conference stands for, that women are paid. Is this not the time to pledge an end to the expectation that the most vulnerable women aren’t paid?”

As well as participating in important conversations, we also had the opportunity to share our work and impact with individuals from around the globe at our booth in the busy exhibition hall. We demonstrated how the theme of the conference—power, progress, change—is reflected in our work. More specifically, m2m believes in the power of the women we employ as Mentor Mothers. These women are making progress in the fight for better health, especially against AIDS, with the achievement of virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV among our enrolled clients for four years in a row. And they are achieving positive change in the health and wellbeing of the women and families by supporting them to access vital, lifesaving medical services and stay in care.

Among the other highlights, m2m Spokeswoman Nozi Samela spoke on two panels. And a film featuring four m2m Mentor Mothers—produced by Elisa Gambino of One Production Place and funded by Johnson & Johnson—premiered at Women Deliver’s Film Festival.

We asked Nozi to share her highlights of the conference:

Q: What was the highpoint of the Women Deliver conference for you?

 

The highpoint for me was seeing how many organisations around the world are engaged in different activities to reach one goal—ensuring that women and girls all over the world have equal opportunities.

I met incredible young women at the conference who are not just the future of our world, but are having an impact today and we need to recognise that. I really loved it when Natasha Wang Mwansa, an 18-year-old Zambian activist who spoke during the Opening Plenary, said that women don’t need to be empowered, but instead they need the world to amplify their voices. They already have powerful voices, but they need to be heard.

I also realised that I’m now part of the older generation, not part of the youth. I’m happy to know that there is another crop of empowered young women who have already stepped into our shoes. That made me become further committed to ensure that their voices are heard one way or another.

Q: What are some of the interesting things you learned?

I had the opportunity to learn what other organisations are doing and how we could use some of their experiences and learnings to better shape our programmes. One of the organisations I met makes menstrual cups for girls and women, which are reusable alternatives to tampons and pads. I’ve already had conversations with some of our team on what we could do to make menstrual health part of our programme.

Q: You spoke on two panels. Tell us about what stood out for you on the panel about how person-centred and respectful care can improve maternal health?

In the discussion I participated in, women from different parts of the world talked about their experiences giving birth. It was humbling to hear what other women went through during pregnancy and birth and how similar our experiences are, especially when we don’t have all of the information we need. I talked about how having support from m2m Mentor Mothers, who are women also living with HIV, enabled me to be an assertive person in the labor ward. That helped me make sure my voice was heard and that I got the information and treatment I needed given my status and my child got the best possible start to life.

Q: What was your key takeaway at the second panel you participated in on the challenges facing girls and women at every stage of life and investments that can have positive impacts on their health?

One of the interesting things I learned on this panel is that while we in global health focus in large part on children, young people, and women of reproductive age, we often forget about the health needs of older, post-menopausal women, who are leaders in our communities, helping to make sure they thrive.

The investment I talked about is employing community health workers, like m2m Mentor Mothers, to help girls and women access health services. African women should not have to take time away from their families working as unpaid community health workers. They have to be paid so they are valued as much as other members of the health team, and are also held accountable to achieve great results.

Q: How was the premiere of the film on m2m?

That was the part of the conference that made me most emotional. I was part of the production of that film from the very beginning, and it was wonderful to see it shown to people from all over the world. We couldn’t bring the South African Mentor Mothers to the conference, but their voices were heard through the film. Films are a great tool to amplify voices and I was so proud to that the powerful voices and inspirational stories of these four Mentor Mothers could be heard at this important conference.

m2m's booth in the exhibition hall.
m2m's booth in the exhibition hall.
Nozi Samela in the exhibition hall.
Nozi Samela in the exhibition hall.
Nozi Samela speaking on panel
Nozi Samela speaking on panel
Nozi Samela and other speakers on the WHO panel.
Nozi Samela and other speakers on the WHO panel.
Nozi Samela being interviewed
Nozi Samela being interviewed
Oct 12, 2018

A Message to Teenage Girls: From one to another

Babalwa & Anathi at an advocacy event in New York
Babalwa & Anathi at an advocacy event in New York

Anathi Mbono is the second of three children and the only girl in the family. Two years ago, her mother Babalwa, who had tested HIV-positive while pregnant with Anathi, disclosed her status to her. Babalwa was one of mothers2mothers (m2m) first clients and Mentor Mother. Thanks to the support provided by m2m, Anathi was born HIV-negative. Now, she is 15 years old and is in her first year of high school. Anathi actively spreads knowledge about health and HIV prevention among her peers.

We caught up with Anathi in Pretoria, South Africa where she lives with her family to find out what it’s like to be a teenager in South Africa nowadays.

 

What do you want the world to know about your life growing up in South Africa?

Being a teenager in general is hard. You are never sure whether you are a child or an adult. One moment you’re told you’re too young to make your own decisions and the next, you’re told you’re too old to not know what to do. It feels like we are always told what to do, and no one really asks us how we feel.

The challenges we face today are also different to the challenges our parents faced, so they often don’t know how to talk to us. It is even harder in South Africa and in the townships where opportunities are limited. We live in a time where HIV is affecting mostly young people, sometimes because of the choices we make and sometimes because of the choices our parents made.

Do you and your girl friends think about your health and how it impacts other parts of your lives?

We do. Many of us are responsible because we know that the choices we make set us up for the rest of our lives. Sadly, not all of us think like that. Some risk everything just to be happy now. And when I try to talk to them they think I am trying to be a ‘Miss Know-it-all’ and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Has your mum’s role as a mothers2mothers Mentor Mother Trainer shaped how you think about your role as a health advocate among your friends and the community?

My mother’s HIV status has made our relationship stronger and brought us closer together. I have two brothers so my mother is the one person I can confidently talk to about girl stuff. Her role as a Mentor Mother Trainer means that she’s very informed about HIV and other health issues and I can always rely on her whenever I need information about anything health-related.

My peers don’t have a lot of information about safe sex and our teachers are too embarrassed to talk openly about sex. That is why I took it upon myself to read my mother’s books and learn, so that I can spread that knowledge too. I also rely on her to be able to educate my friends – they know that my mother is always available to answer our questions.

How did your peers react when they found out your mum was HIV-positive?

I told two of my friends about my mother’s status after she disclosed to me. One of them told me that her mother was HIV-positive too and the other asked me to go to mothers2mothers with her to get tested. It was the right move. I was reassured that I was healthy, and I was also able to access free counseling there.

Other kids learned of my mother’s status online from an article of our time at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year. They started gossiping about me at school and that hurt me a lot. I spoke to my mother about it and got counseling on how to deal with the stigma. After that, I realised that their attitude was due to lack of information so I made it my business to educate them about HIV through the school drama group.

Their attitude has since changed – either because they know more about HIV or because what other people think doesn’t affect me anymore. I know who I am and I am not ashamed.

On International Day of the Girl, what would you like to say to other girls who may not realise how important their health is in reaching their dreams?

That it doesn’t matter who judges you or looks down on you because of what you have or do not have; what matters is what is inside of you. You have a choice: either pick yourself up after every small mistake and learn from them, or lose your dignity while trying to please the world. No one will respect you if you don’t respect yourself.

What would your message be to world leaders?

To not only focus on what we do wrong but help build us and our dreams. I want celebrities to show us their reality so that we can see that they also have challenges, that way we will not feel like failures when we do not reach our goals at certain ages but we will be inspired to keep trying, no matter how long it takes.

Spokeswoman Babalwa Mbono with her daughter Anathi
Spokeswoman Babalwa Mbono with her daughter Anathi

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