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Ending the Transmission of the AIDS Virus from Mother to Child—It Just Might be Possible

A mother and child visit the Dambwa Health Center in Zambia, where the m2m mentor model is changing lives.

In the United States and Europe, every day one child is born with HIV.  In Africa, every day 1,000 children are born with HIV.  mothers2mothers is changing that.

mothers2mothers (m2m), an Aid for Africa member,  was born in a clinic in South Africa in 2001.  There a HIV-positive woman explained to another young woman with HIV how not to infect her unborn child with the virus.  This first “mentor mother“ was able to succeed where medical practitioners had failed.  Mentor mothers—women who are recruited, trained, employed and integrated into health care systems—are changing the face of AIDS in Africa. In the last 11 years, m2m’s model, which is being replicated in nine countries in Sub Saharan Africa, has helped reduce the number of babies born with HIV by hundreds of thousands. 

 This grassroots approach championed by m2m is now scaling up to the national level.  In Kenya, m2m is working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to incorporate m2m’s approach into their national health program.  According to Nicole Sijenyi Fulton, m2m’s country representative for Kenya, “we estimate that between 80,000 and 100,000 HIV-positive women are pregnant every year in Kenya.  Our goal is to incorporate m2m’s approach into some 4,000 clinics, targeting 500 clinics that serve half of the HIV-positive pregnant woman immediately.”

Fulton noted that when governments are willing to work to incorporate effective grassroots efforts into national programs, they can be expanded to help thousands more.   She said that 22 countries, mostly in Africa, have made the commitment to do the same. But for now, all eyes are on Kenya.  

In the meantime, m2m continues to build its grassroots network. With 22 million people living with HIV in Sub Saharan Africa, there is still much to do.

As leaders in the fight against AIDS gather at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, July 22-27, mother to child transmission of the AIDS virus will be one of the topics of discussion.  No doubt it will include discussion of this model of care that started with one mentor mother in South Africa and led to the hope that a  “virtual elimination” of babies born with the AIDS virus just might be possible.