Kangela was eight months pregnant when she learned she was HIV-positive.
“It was like the whole world had come to an end,” says Kangela, who lives in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. “I didn’t know what to do. I was thinking: Is my baby going to die? How am I going to tell this to my mom and deal with the community?”
Because 67 percent of the world’s HIV population lives in sub-Saharan Africa, Kangela is one of many women facing this fear.
“When I came to practice medicine in South Africa in 1999, there were no programs or resources for HIV-positive women,” says Mitch Besser, M.D., Obstetrician/Gynecologist. To address this issue, Dr. Besser founded mothers2mothers (m2m), a program where HIV-positive mothers share their experiences and knowledge with pregnant women and new moms- who have the virus.
'You Will Raise a Healthy Baby’
The first m2m site opened in Cape Town in 2001. Today, m2m services are offered in 645 sites across seven countries in Africa, including Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. In 2010, m2m will launch in Tanzania and Uganda. Program sites interact with more 200,000 people every month, and 300,000 new HIV-positive mothers enroll in the program each year.
More than 1,000 moms are trained as mentors, including Kangela. “Women come to us and they are scared. I tell them that I am HIV positive but my child is HIV negative. I tell them, you are going to make it, and you will raise a healthy baby.”
The mentor mothers talk to women about the use of condoms, antiretroviral treatment, proper diet and how to feed their babies to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In addition, they provide important psychosocial counseling and peer-based support for the newly diagnosed mothers, who are likely to face stigma and discrimination.
The results have been life changing. Dr. Besser says that nearly all the HIV-positive women who take part in the m2m program have HIV-negative babies. “These women no longer feel like outcasts in society,” says Dr. Besser. “They belong to a vibrant community where they are raising healthy babies and living positive lives.”
Partnerships with business, government and other groups have allowed the m2m program to grow and reach more women every day. From July 2009 to April 2010, support from Johnson & Johnson helped m2m reach thousands of women living with HIV, including nearly 9,800 women in Lesotho, 21,000 in Swaziland and nearly 3,500 in South Africa.
In 2008, Johnson & Johnson received the Award for Business Excellence on HIV/AIDS Addressing Women and Girls from the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for its work with m2m. The m2m program is among more than 120 HIV/AIDS programs across 50 countries supported by Johnson & Johnson.
“Our partnership with Johnson & Johnson has allowed us to reach enormous numbers of women,” says Dr. Besser. “What began as a simple idea has changed the way thousands of women feel, cope and live.”
Mantra of Hope
“No more infected babies. No more dying mothers.” This is the m2m mantra, says Kangela, herself now a mentor mother. She smiles each time she looks at her 6-year-old healthy son. “I am proof that there is hope. And I look forward to the day when we can all raise our children in an HIV-free generation.”
April 7th is World Health Day
Read more about mothers2mothers on our corporate blog, JNJBTW
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