Since 2001, Mothers2Mothers has empowered women infected with HIV across the globe. In a recent interview with Voice of America contributor Joe DeCapua, m2m co-founder and international director Robin Smalley discussed ways the organization’s Mentor Mothers program is changing the lives of more than 1 million women in sub-Saharan Africa.

Smalley said that Mentor Mothers was developed to address the lack of both access to healthcare and emotional support available for pregnant women living with HIV.

She explained how difficult pregnancy can be for vulnerable women in the region:

“A young woman would come in. She’d come in for her first pregnancy test. In Africa, that tends to be around five months. At that time she’s offered her first HIV test. She’s like young mothers everywhere. She’s excited. She’s full of joy. She never anticipates anything going wrong. So when that test comes back positive she thinks it’s a death sentence for herself and for her baby. And there’s nobody available to tell her that there is medical intervention available to help her prevent transmission to her child. And so she goes home. She never seeks medical care again because of the terrible stigmas in the community.”

Smalley and Dr. Mitch Besser, m2m’s co-founder, determined that the women themselves may represent the best available resource for others facing the same situation. She recalled how they transformed that realization into action.

“Let’s just take newly delivered moms, who are HIV positive, put them through a rigorous training, send them back into their own clinics as what we call Mentor Mothers. Pay them for their work, and let them address this service, and that’s what’s happened. Now when a young woman comes in and gets this devastating diagnosis, a mentor Mother is called, who can put her arms around her, hold her hand, who can say you’re not alone. I’m positive, too. And we’re going to get through this together.”

The Mentor Mothers program has been met with such success that Smalley is confident we can live in a world where no baby has to be born facing this life-long illness within a matter of years.

To learn more about 2012 Kravis Prize winner m2m, visit our page.

Women Helping Women Deal with HIV [Voice of America, Nov. 30, 2012]