Banchi Abebe, a self-supporting mother of two, is a mentor mother at Sabian Health Center in Dire Dawa Administrative region, one of the four regions supported by ICAP in Ethiopia.  She was among the first to be enrolled in the Mother Support Group program, a part of the facility’s PMTCT program.

The support group initially focuses on empowering women like Banchi to share their stories and talk openly about HIV, and then to empowers them to start building more self-directed lives.

Through the Mother Support Group, Banchi has learned to openly talk about her HIV status. Banchi now leads a group of 35 women living with HIV who are involved in income-generating activities. Largely dealing in dried foodstuffs, they have now earned about 80,000 Ethiopian birr (about U.S. $5,000), a substantial amount for a country with a per capita annual income of roughly U.S. $630.

Since the program started in 2007, one group of mothers has completed participation in the program, which starts during pregnancy and lasts for at least 18 months after giving birth until the mother knows the final HIV test results of their child. The Sabian Health Center is now working with its second and third groups of mothers and children.

The program includes discussion sessions three times a week. Sr. Selamawit Mulugeta, the mother support group site coordinator for Sabian Health Center, further explained, “Monday morning is for mothers with children more than six months of age. Wednesday morning is for mothers with children under the age of six months, and Wednesday afternoon is for pregnant mothers. In each session, the mentor mothers raise issues and discuss how to take care of their children in a manner to reduce risk of HIV transmission to their babies. They also get information on the importance of family planning and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.”

The program started four years ago with four pilot sites established to improve PMTCT services. It sought to provide practical advice and psychosocial support to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers with HIV, help mothers adhere to HIV medicines for PMTCT and their own treatment, and provide proper infant feeding practice. In addition, Mother Support Groups helped inform women about family planning, helped them disclose their HIV status, provided a forum to talk about HIV services in understandable terms, and linked mothers to facility and community resources.

Banci commented, “I got peace of mind and was relieved seeing my baby free from HIV. I wanted others to have that feeling, and ease their burden by sharing my experience.”

The Mother Support Group program has currently been implemented in 24 health facilities, with 24 site coordinators and 77 mentor mothers. So far, 316 group members have received training to generate their own incomes. Additionally, 591 breastfeeding and 223 pregnant women regularly attend the program, and 504 HIV-exposed infants are on follow-up.

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