WATCH | The mothers on the frontlines of the HIV epidemic

2001 was a traumatic time to be living with HIV in South Africa. Misinformation, government scandals, and social stigma kept people suffering in fear and shame.

The rate of infection soared as the epidemic swept through the nation. That year, doctors and concerned citizens founded mothers2mothers.

The non-profit employs HIV-positive women who take newly-diagnosed and frightened mothers under their wing.

Known as Mentor Mothers, they provide an integral link between health facilities and patients in need. One of these women is Limpho Nteko.

Nteko was just a teenager when she got married, fell pregnant, and discovered that she was HIV-positive.

Nteko’s courage was restored by her relationship with the Mentor Mothers. “They have been through the same journey,” she says. “They are the ones who made me believe in myself again.”

In time, Nteko was employed as a Mentor Mother herself in Lesotho. She became a regional manager two years later, supervising a group of 90 mentors.

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These teams of community health workers go door-to-door and dedicate time at medical centres and in homes to provide support, counselling, and care for HIV-positive moms and children.

Nteko’s work has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular emphasis on training her colleagues about the precautions to take when visiting patients.

The initiative has since expanded to 10 countries in Africa. By rallying around one another and treating mothers with empathy, these women go from being among the most marginalised to employed and respected members of their communities.

Over 11 000 jobs have been created for HIV-positive women, and more than 11 million mothers and young children assisted.

“It makes me want to get up every day because I know that I am making a difference,” Nteko says. “The fact that I’m giving back, it puts a smile on my face.”