In fear, we found “ubuntu”
The shockwaves of COVID-19 have been keenly felt through all 10 countries where mothers2mothers work. However, amidst the uncertainty and fear, mothers2mothers also found unexpected silver linings.
In mothers2mothers’ (m2m) home country of South Africa, there is a powerful philosophy called “Ubuntu” - a Zulu phrase meaning “I am, because you are”.
“This, to me, powerfully encapsulates the recognition and awakening of the last year and a half” says Emma France, m2m Global Development and Strategic Engagement Director.
m2m trains and employs women living with HIV as frontline community health workers – Mentor Mothers – in severely underserved communities across sub-Saharan Africa. These Mentor Mothers work both at health facilities and door-to-door in their communities to deliver life-changing health services and education to women, children, adolescents and entire families.
The shockwaves of COVID-19 have been keenly felt through all 10 countries where m2m’s 1,800 Mentor Mothers work, especially for the women they work with who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – from an increase in gender-based violence to even more unpaid care work with children out-of-school, heightened care needs of their families, and overwhelmed health services.
“Shockwaves not only because of the spread of COVID-19 and the uncertainty that accompanied it, but also because our frontline staff found themselves fighting not one, but two pandemics – COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. That dual battle led to a number of compounding challenges, but also to a true opportunity to leverage the invaluable lessons that we have learnt from 20 years of fighting HIV/AIDS.”
Amidst the uncertainty and fear, m2m also found unexpected silver linings.
Mentor Mothers, for instance, were rapidly recognised by governments as essential workers. “This meant that they were leaned upon to continue delivering their lifesaving health education and services during lockdowns – a clear testament to their vital contribution! In some countries, our teams received permission from the government to deliver anti-retroviral medications to clients living with HIV at home to ensure they had continued access to this lifesaving treatment when lockdown measures made it too difficult for them to travel to the health clinics themselves.”
What was also quite unexpected, given the circumstances, was that mothers2mothers continued to expand its footprint across the continent. “We opened in two new countries (Ghana and Tanzania) and continued to drive service innovation, with Mentor Mothers now providing services to prevent and manage hypertension, diabetes and other non- communicable diseases for the first time in our history”.
m2m investment in female- and local-led solutions proved its worth.
“We could not be prouder of the resilience and determination demonstrated by our frontline staff. They have shown the invaluable difference that community health workers make in the lives of their peers, truly ensuring that no one is left behind. As an organisation, not only have we recognised their potential, we have also invested in it for the last 20 years. Having them recognised as essential workers cemented what we have always known - trained employed community health workers are an essential element of delivering universal health coverage. Now is the time to turn that recognition into action, and build a resilient, female-led cadre of community health workers.”