Goodness Dlamini: Living Positively with HIV in Swaziland

Goodness Dlamini (right), a "mentor mother", outside the Lamvelase clinic in Manzini, Swaziland. {Photo credit: Josh Chuttergoon/MSH.}Photo credit: Josh Chuttergoon/MSH.

"I want to see more women living like me, moving away from being sickly to living a healthy, productive life."

This is what keeps Goodness Dlamini going as a "mentor mother." Goodness, 39-years old, supports and educates pregnant women and mothers on prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) at Lamvelase Clinic in Manzini, the largest city in Swaziland. Lamvelase clinic is one of 60 urban and rural sites in the country where mothers2mothers (m2m), delivers peer to peer PMTCT counseling services to women.

In a country where 25 percent of teens and adults ages 15 to 49 are HIV positive, a program that prevents mother to child transmission is essential.

Goodness has been living with HIV for fifteen years, and has three children ages 10, 7 and 3 -- all of whom are HIV negative. She attributes this partly to a caring nurse who, back in 1997 when stigma was high and HIV-positive people were ostracized, gave her hope to live and encouraged her to take her medication. When she was pregnant with her youngest child, Goodness learned about the services that m2m offers.

m2m is a non-profit organization that operates in seven countries in the Southern and Eastern African region and provides support to mothers for prevention of mother to child transmission through a peer mentor model. With support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional HIV/AIDS Program, and in partnership with Management Sciences for Health, the Building Local Capacity (BLC) for Delivery of HIV Services in Southern Africa Project helps m2m cover operational costs for the 60 sites in Swaziland.

"I learned that being HIV positive doesn't mean that you will die or give birth to HIV positive children. Before I thought life was no more but now I am covered with knowledge," Goodness said.

As an m2m mentor mother, this is precisely the same message of hope and encouragement she passes on to her clients today. The difference is that she can also tell them of her own experiences raising HIV negative children with her partner who is also HIV positive.

Goodness is matter of fact about meeting the needs of her clients. For women without food, she shares vegetables from her garden, and for those apprehensive about disclosing their status, she will gently counsel and if invited, visit their homes to meet with their partners.

She tells the women's partners that being HIV positive "doesn't mean no one will love you, it is a disease you can live with as long as you follow the treatment recommendations."

Goodness will continue working for m2m until August 2012 at which time she does not see that her work is finished. She says she will continue to counsel people in the community.