m2m was founded in 2001 in Cape Town, South Africa with a remarkably simple, but equally visionary, idea—that African mothers living with HIV could serve as peer mentors to women facing challenges similar to those they experienced. m2m trains and employs women living with HIV as frontline health workers to provide vital health services, education, and support to women and families in their communities.
m2m’s work is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. The uncomfortable truth is that, today, your gender, the color of your skin, and the country you live in continue to play a major role in determining your health outcomes. This is certainly the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where women and girls face profound health disparities, including the highest maternal mortality rate in the world and a disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS—due to gender inequities, critically under-resourced health systems, HIV-related stigma, poverty, and other barriers to accessing healthcare. According to UNICEF, two-thirds of the world’s maternal deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa and most of these deaths are preventable. UNAIDS reports that adolescent girls and young women (ages 15–24) are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men in sub-Saharan Africa, with around 4,200 HIV infections every week.
Technical details & Operations
Some highlights of m2m’s model:
- Mentor Mothers are paid professionals: Many community health workers are expected to work for free, or for a small stipend or a meal. m2m chooses instead to pay fair salaries, and to invest in our team with intensive and regular training.
- Taking integrated services to where our clients need them: m2m takes our services to where our clients are—recognising that accessing care and staying in care can be challenging for the communities we serve. For us this means working both at health facilities and door-to-door in local communities.
- We work in partnership with governments: Mentor Mothers are fully integrated into local health services and work side by side with doctors and nurses.
- Broader vision, broader model: Today, we know that to end AIDS for good, it is not enough to stop the transmission of HIV. We must also make sure no-one is left behind in accessing vital health services—especially populations most vulnerable to HIV, including women, children, and adolescents. That’s why we have evolved our tried and tested model to tackle a range of health-related challenges for women, children, and adolescents.
Combining digital and personal services: Faced with a global pandemic that restricted contact and movement, and recognising the very serious risk COVID-19 posed to people living with HIV either directly or by disrupting their care, it was essential for m2m to find a way to protect our frontline staff so they could continue to provide vital health services and education during this challenging time. m2m rapidly innovated our service platform so that our frontline team not only provides services in-person, but now reaches hundreds of thousands of clients each year by using telephone and smartphone apps carefully integrated with in-person services.
Deployment & Impact
Over the last 20 years, m2m has grown in both scale and impact. Starting in 2001 with a few frontline staff working at a single site in Cape Town, South Africa, today m2m operates from hundreds of locations across 10 African countries. Since we started, we have reached more than 14.5 million individuals with life-changing health services and education. In 2020 alone, we reached around 1.3 million clients through direct services and technical assistance.
m2m has also created more than 11,500 jobs for African women living with HIV since 2001. Our frontline team now numbers nearly 1,900, the vast majority of whom are women living with HIV. This employment creates vital empowerment opportunities for African women to significantly improve their lives.
Here is some of the impact m2m has had:
- m2m has achieved virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV among our enrolled clients for seven consecutive years (2014-2020), contributing to the global goal of ending HIV. In 2020, m2m’s mothers-to-child transmission rate among enrolled clients was 0.8%, well below the 5% United Nations benchmark.
- m2m helped to keep over 2M women and children alive (1,174,892 women and 965,225 children (ages 0-5)), who might otherwise have been at increased risk of maternal and child mortality.
- m2m helped an estimated 4,382,382 adults stay HIV-negative over the past seven years alone. Primary prevention of HIV is a cornerstone of an HIV-free future.
- m2m helped over 1.2 million people living with HIV access life-saving antiretroviral treatment since 2008, which is essential to keep our clients healthy and alive, and plays a critical role in preventing new infections.
- m2m provided over 1.1 million adolescents (ages 10-24) with services in the last three years alone. Reaching this population with youth-friendly services is critical, since adolescent girls and young women are among the most vulnerable to HIV infection and can struggle to access the health services they need.
- Since launching our digital services in 2020, over 430,000 clients have been reached who might otherwise have been at risk of falling out of care.