Ethiopian Mothers' Support Groups Mentor HIV-Positive Moms

{Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH}Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH

Living with her unemployed husband, 10-month-old son, and 8-year-old HIV-positive daughter, Mearg felt that life was hopeless before joining a Mothers' Support Group (MSG) at Korem Health Center in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. But membership in the MSG, complemented by participation in her community’s association for people living with HIV, helped her regain self-esteem.

With the support of the MSG’s mentor mothers and the district health office, Mearg learned new ways to generate income for her family, including sheep fattening and backyard vegetable farming. This enabled her to provide for her children and gave her the self-confidence to disclose her HIV-positive status to her community. Using the skills and knowledge acquired from the MSG, Mearg became a role model to other HIV-positive mothers, promoting HIV-testing, sharing her knowledge of HIV and prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and mobilizing her community to support their AIDS orphans.

In Tigray, the PEPFAR-funded, and Management Sciences for Health-led USAID Ethiopia Network for HIV/AIDS Treatment, Care and Support (ENHAT-CS) program supports MSGs in 15 health centers, typically those with high HIV-positive patient loads. Led by trained mother mentors, MSGs provide psycho-social support, adherence counseling, promotion of facility delivery, encouragement of male involvement and family testing, group support, family planning counseling, and promotion of appropriate infant feeding options.

ENHAT-CS has found that just 5.4 percent of babies born to women who participate in an MSG test positive for HIV, versus 11.5 percent of babies born to mothers who do not participate.

The link between the Korem Health Center’s antenatal care clinic and MSG is strong. The providers counsel all HIV-positive pregnant women on the importance of the MSG and refer them for enrollment in the HIV clinic for care and treatment. Since its establishment, Korem Health Center’s MSG has enrolled 116 HIV-positive mothers and 20 men. Of the current 64 members who are lactating, all delivered at the center. Fifty-five of their babies have been tested for HIV, and only one found positive.

Meaza Kahssaye is ENHAT-CS Mother Support Group capacity building officer.