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Local mothers nearly eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV among women they serve in sub-Saharan Africa

News 22 March 2017

Rates of mother-to-child HIV transmission have plummeted across sub-Saharan Africa in the 15 years since a programme was launched to help HIV-positive pregnant women access essential services and medical care. mothers2mothers (m2m) employs mothers living with HIV to provide education and support to HIV-positive pregnant women, new mothers and their families. The programme, which started in South Africa in 2001, is currently being implemented in seven African countries. In 2015, m2m achieved virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) with an average MTCT rate of 2.1% among babies of m2m clients at the final 18-24 month test; significantly lower than national rates. For example, the national MTCT rate in Lesotho is 14%, while the rate among women served by m2m Lesotho is 3.7%.  In Uganda, the national MTCT rate is 8%, compared to a 5.8% rate among m2m Uganda clients.

m2m founder, Dr Mitchell Besser, says the programme not only works by reducing the number of HIV infections through MTCT, but the Mentor Mother Model empowers  local mothers living with HIV as role models . More than 1700 are currently trained and employed as frontline healthcare providers in understaffed health centres and within communities to educate and support other women on how to protect their babies from HIV infection.

Dr Besser presented his initiative at the opening ceremony of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) World Congress 2017 in Cape Town on Monday (20 March). More than a thousand delegates arrived at the Cape Town International Convention Centre to hear how m2m has changed the impact of HIV on African women and their children.

Dr Besser said:

“Our most recent figures* revealed that MTCT rates in four- to eight-week-old babies were at 1.8% and 2.1% for those between 18 and 24 months. These outcomes are comparable to outcomes in resource rich countries like the United States and England.

“To achieve these results is extraordinary when considering that, in 2015, there were an estimated 25.5 million people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa**. This is undoubtedly the worst affected region with the highest rate of prevalence and infection in countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

“With roughly 2.1 million new HIV infections in 2015, UK-based HIV and Aids organisation, AVERT has noted that 150,000 of these new infections were among children, most of whom were from sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during either pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding**.

“I first travelled to Cape Town in 1999 to work with the University of Cape Town on a HIV programme. This was at a time when there were very few interventions available. We faced the challenge of trying to speak to mothers from various communities in a way that was both informative and relatable. This is how m2m was born. We quickly discovered that there was no better way to educate and support these women, than for it to come from those who have first-hand experience and a deep understanding of social and cultural influencers.

The RCOG World Congress was a wonderful platform to create greater awareness of the HIV epidemic and to promote the strides being made to reduce the prevalence and spread of the virus. It truly is exciting to show the world what is possible when we work together.”


Women’s right to receive safe and timely healthcare will be the focus of the 2017 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) World Congress in Cape Town from 20-22 March. The cutting edge scientific programme of daily plenary sessions and simultaneous lectures will also feature presentations from experts including:

  • Atul Gawande – The checklist effect: From surgery to childbirth
  • Ariadne Labs – The impact of the BetterBirth trial on birth practices, maternal mortality and morbidity, and newborn mortality
  • Lesley Regan (RCOG President) – Leading Safe Choices
  • Kerry Louw – Substance abuse in pregnancy: The medical challenge
  • Rob Norman – Obesity and under nutrition in reproduction
  • Roger Lobo – Menopause Hormone Therapy – The window of opportunity
  • Michael Pepper – Gender and sexual diversity
  • Naeemah Abrahams – Gender-based violence: Is there light at the end of the tunnel
  • Josephine Kulea, Janice Rymer and Seynabou Tall – FGM: Community advocacy and mandatory reporting – conversation about different approaches to the same problem
  • Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya

For more information or a copy of the Congress programme, please visit

For more information on Mothers2mothers, please visit

* m2m December 2015 figures

** AVERT – 2015 HIV and Aids statistics

International media inquiries:
Eclipse Public Relations – Kirsten Smith
082 820 3920 /

UK media inquiries:
RCOG – Tara Meakins
0207 772 6357 / 07715 677 224 /

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.