|Dr Mitchell Besser and Ms Pat Qolo|
Imagine being told that you are not only pregnant but HIV-positive as well. For the hundreds of thousands of South African women who have received this news, there has been little support from overworked clinic staff, and frequently little or no support from their families or communities either. Who then could they turn to for help, or to answer all their questions?
Questions such as: How do I tell my partner or my family? What happens if they throw me out? Will my baby have the disease too? How can I protect my baby? How soon will I become sick? Who will look after my baby if I die? Dr. Mitch Besser, a charming and enthusiastic American obstetrician who moved to Cape Town in 2000, quickly realised these women needed much more than medical care. They needed psychosocial support as well as education to help them cope with their diagnosis and the impact of HIV disease on their pregnancy and lives thereafter.He also realised that HIV-positive mothers who had already given birth and been through the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme would make ideal mentors to help newly diagnosed pregnant women. Some of these women were therefore given training and asked to help form a support group for the new mothers. He called this group mothers-to-mothers-to-be or m2m2B. From a single support group at Groote Schuur hospital in 2001, the programme has been so successful it has now grown into a multinational Non-Profit Organisation with 343 operational sites in South Africa and 302 in six other African countries (Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zambia).Each year over 800 000 HIV-positive mothers are now given support, care and advice from over 1 500 trained Mentor Mothers and site co-ordinators. And as a result the rate of HIV transmission to infants has been significantly reduced and the overall health of the mother and baby significantly increased. This is a testament to the effectiveness of the programme and Dr Besser is quick to give full credit to the remarkable women themselves, rather than himself.
Pat Qolo was one of the first women to be recruited by Dr Besser to help him expand the programme into other areas in the Western Cape. In 1999 she started working as a Lifeline counsellor at the Site B Community Health Centre in Khayelitsha. There she was asked by a group of newly diagnosed HIV-positive mothers to help them form a support group. They would meet regularly but did not know what else to do, other than support each other. Dr Besser then started coming through every Thursday to work at Site B and heard about the group. He recruited them into the programme and in 2002 employed Pat Qolo as a fulltime trainer for the m2m programme. In 2005 she was stationed at Etafeni Day Care Centre in Nyanga. Here she is integrating the m2m programme into the services offered by this large and effective non-profit organisation which helps AIDS-affected and vulnerable children and their families. When asked about her work with the mothers2mothers programme she replied, “It is so wonderful to watch the women change and become strong. Oh so strong, and empowered. It is such a good thing for them. For all of us.”
Mothers2Mothers is continually recognised for its innovative reponse to the AIDS pandemic. In 2009 the organisation received a social entrepreneurship award from the Skoll Foundation, while in 2009 they were selected as a regional winner by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. In May 2010 they received the Impumulelo Award for Sustainability.