BY RUTENDO MATANHIKE
THE United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef)-sponsored Young Mentor Mothers, a programme designed to provide enhanced care and support for vulnerable pregnant and breast-feeding adolescent and young mothers living with HIV and their exposed babies, has made a positive impact on 726 individuals since its launch last year, NewsDay Weekender has learnt.
After conducting studies which revealed that adolescents had challenges adhering to anti-retroviral therapy than children and adults, Unicef came to the aid of adolescent mothers living with HIV by offering cost-effective, psychosocial and community-based support.
Speaking to NewsDay Weekender on the sidelines of a Unicef Brown Bag presentation on outcomes among adolescents living with HIV on Wednesday, senior technical adviser April Ricotta said the programme was introduced
after noting that the young mothers were being left out of HIV-related programmes.
“Seven hundred and twenty six mothers have registered for the programme and 97% (639) of them have had a viral load drawn from them. Of the 639, 620 are virally suppressed; which is reaching the UNAids goal we want,”
“The programme has had an impact in the suppression of the viral load among young people living with HIV. There is need to not only get them on treatment, but also to stay on treatment.” The programme sprouted from
the Zvandiri research programme which sought to provide evidence of the impact of support directed towards adolescents living with HIV (ALHIV).
Zvandiri is a programme which seeks to ensure that children, adolescents and young people living with HIV have the knowledge, skills and confidence to live happy, healthy, safe and fulfilled lives.
“We knew the Zvandiri programme was documented as the best practice since it worked well through the differentiated peer support model of the ALHIV. We, however, recognised from the findings that the young mothers
felt they were different from the other ALHIV and that when a peer came to them offering support, there was a lot of disconnection because of the variation in concerns,” Ricotta said.
“We were funded by Unicef for this programme, taking the same model of peer support from the Zvandiri programme with the only caveat being that since these young women have had babies, they can now get assistance from
others facing similar problems.”
She said the trained young mentor mothers contact other mothers and sometimes pay them visits to offer support to promote adherence to medication. “These mentors contact other mothers to provide care and support. A
primary objective is that the mother has to be virally suppressed and if they are, the possibility of transmitting the virus to their babies should be going down to zero.”
The research studies were conducted by Africaid, CeSHHAR Zimbabwe and research collaborators, with funding from Unicef and Viiv Healthcare’s Positive Action for Adolescents.
Ricotta said there were plans to expand their reach next year as the pilot YMM had shown some promising results.