Peer Support Group Program For HIV/AIDS Thrives In Ethiopia

IntraHealth International expanded its Mother Support Program to 16 new sites in the last quarter of 2006. The initiative now supports additional Mother Support Program groups at health centers in Oromia, Addis Ababa, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR), Dire Dawa and Afar.

 The Mother Support Program promotes awareness of antenatal care and HIV prevention services in Ethiopia. The program benefits HIV-positive families, providing mentorship, counseling and medical care and treatment to mothers and children living with HIV/AIDS. By raising and sharing their voices and concerns, the women in the Mother Support Program become advocates for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and support for themselves, other women and their communities.

To support the expansion of the program, IntraHealth trained 25 support group counselors and facility heads (13 female and 12 male) to serve as site coordinators. It also coached ten HIV-positive mothers, who will serve as Mother Support Program mentors. The initiative also complements efforts to increase male involvement in prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). More than 75 partners whose wives participate in the Mother Support Program attended a PMTCT review meeting.

The result of a successful knowledge sharing partnership between IntraHealth and the groundbreaking Mothers2Mothers program in South Africa, the Ethiopian program is modeled after Mothers2Mothers and relied on early assistance from South Africa in training and curriculum development.

In May 2006, six women from the Mother Support Program talked candidly at a recognition ceremony about their experiences living with HIV. Government representatives, health providers and members of community organizations listened to the women as they spoke courageously about how they learned their HIV sero-status during pregnancy or, in the case of one woman, after delivery. They also discussed the challenges they faced and how they benefited from enrollment in the Mother Support Program. All the women praised the program for its peer support in connecting them to critical health services, including family planning, treatment of opportunistic infections and antiretroviral therapy, and in helping them to explore sensitive issues like disclosure, safe sex and safe infant feeding.

"It is so important to focus on women and their families," said Janet Wilgus, US Deputy Chief of Mission, who with Dina Fekadu, Miss Ethiopia, presented certificates to 105 mothers and 24 male partners during the ceremony. "Through this program there has been a remarkable increase in access to HIV prevention, care and treatment services—through the advice and counsel of other mothers in their communities."

More than 350 HIV-positive women and 60 male partners are currently enrolled in Mothers-to-Mothers. Training is under way to expand the program from four to between 35 and 50 sites throughout Ethiopia.