Hours after landing in Kenya I found my self sat under a tree in the grounds of Kisumu hospital, with a group of mothers and babies, and a couple of their husbands/partners. Sleep deprived and warmed by the sun, it was hard to believe I had been in Nottingham just over 24 hours ago. We received the most amazing, uplifting music and song welcome from Mothers2Mothers, a project funded here in Kenya by Comic Relief, and I was immediately energised by this hugely positive project that is changing the future for Kenya.
Mothers2Mothers train ‘Mentor Mothers’ to provide essential health education and psychosocial support to other HIV‐positive mothers.
About 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV and the Kisumu area has the highest HIV prevalence in the country. Almost 13,000 children a year are newly infected with HIV in Kenya. Without treatment, approximately half of these children will die before age two.
From finding the best drugs to manage their HIV, to leaning how can protect their babies from HIV infection, to keeping themselves and their families healthy and understanding family planning options – regular support groups cover the ground the groups need in order to stay healthy and happy.
It was 28 degrees and the meeting was a relaxed, but purposeful, toddlers played by their mother’s feet, babies breastfed and then fell asleep in their mother’s arms or on blankets, while the group, led by the Mother Mentors, talked about nutrition, family planning and breastfeeding.
I haven’t had much sleep but I was keen to share a quick video of our time Mothers2Mothers, including some gorgeous and incredibly vocal babies and the amazing song and dance welcome that greeted us:
After the support meeting, more informal chat and the food – Mothers2Mothers always provide a nutritious meal for those that attend, we were able to interview a few of the women who benefit from the project. They were so inspiring and there will be lots more on their stories, to come. We will also be returning to the hospital to visit the maternity ward on Monday which should be incredible.
The transmission of the HIV virus from a mother to her baby is preventable. Simple and inexpensive medicines are available, and with the right support transmission rates of the virus can be reduced from 40% to 5% .
Many of the women had given up on life and on the idea of marriage or motherhood because of their HIV status, only to be helped by the project to deliver HIV negative babies and to develop loving relationships. Some of the women had had HIV since birth, others had been victims of rape, others had contracted it from partners without knowing and found out for the first time through antenatal care. It was incredible powerful to hear them talk about this with beautiful babies gurgling on their knees.
Mothers2Mothers encourage women to disclose their status to their families and to not allow themselves to be stigmatised. Many of the requirements to stay healthy require family support. The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding, as although formula can prevent transmission, it is expensive and getting clean water can be an issue. Breastfeeding is the norm in Kenya, but not always exclusively, as families often give babies porridge too – but this can damage the lining of the digestive system and affect HIV transmission, ensuring babies are HIV negative is a delicate balance.
Convincing partners and families of the need to breastfeed exclusively, to maintain drug treatments, eat healthily and in the case of couples where only one partner is HIV positive, to use condoms, are just some of the challenging issues HIV positive women must learn to navigate and negotiate. the women shared some of the myths, superstitions and attitudes that can prevent HIV positive women staying happy and healthy.
Wycliffe, who was first to admit he was ‘One of the rude men initially, I could not accept things’ was one of the only men to accompany his wife to the project, and very vocal about husbands supporting partners. He explained – ‘Death is there, you can die even without HIV. We used to think you would be in the grave, but education has given us light and shown us the truth” In the back ground, in the most heart wrenching moment where life illustrated just how fragile it is, we heard wails coming from the hospital casualty ward, as relatives mourned the death of a loved one who had been brought in after an accident.
It has been a strange day, lacking in sleep and time to process, but incredible people, supporting each other and themselves and becoming the future of Kenya, a future where babies are born HIV negative.
In the words of Elizabeth, mum to Tatiana, who was a really passionate voice in the group, she is keen to become a mentor mother herself:
‘It is just a condition. You can go further. You can make wonders. You can help others.’
Thanks to Comic Relief funding, Mothers2Mothers is helping pregnant women living with HIV to access the life-saving health services they need to prevent mother-to-child transmission. The project is targeting Nyanza province where prevalence of the disease is almost three times higher than the national average.
The project is training and employing mothers living with HIV to become ‘mentor mothers’ at ten health care facilities across the province. These mentor mothers aim to support over 11,000 pregnant women and new mums living with HIV to access the healthcare they desperately need to protect their babies.
How can I Help?
When people see the good their money does, they keep on donating.
- The link to subscribe for a social postcard from Kenya is HERE – to post on instagram, facebook, twitter and/or blogs, or whatever social media you see fit, on Monday 26th January. There will also be more info on the HERE on Sunday evening.
- Share this post! Look out for #lastingchange updates from projects we visit and behind the scenes, please share them.
- FUNRAISE! Sign up to join Team Honk for Red Nose Day Danceathon and raise money on Red Nose Day