Mitchell Besser

Ashoka Fellow
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Fellow Since 2008


This profile was prepared when Mitchell Besser was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Mitch’s response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a determined approach to ensure that HIV-positive pregnant women deliver HIV-negative children. As a medical doctor working in Cape Town, Mitch saw pregnant women come into clinics for their first antenatal visit and receive their first test for HIV. In a system managed by overburdened healthcare workers, the pregnant women who received a diagnosis of HIV would leave the clinic alone and terrified. Mitch’s organization, mothers2mothers, is a simple but powerful program that tackles this problem on a local level: New HIV-positive mothers who had recently been through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission process (PMTCT) are hired for one to two year periods to educate and support pregnant women in similar situations.

mothers2mothers provides education and psychosocial support to pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV/AIDS. The program is driven by its mission to reduce the number of babies born with HIV, keep mothers healthy and alive, empower women as caregivers, and reduce the stigma associated with HIV infection. To achieve these goals, it employs mothers living with HIV to work as “mentor-mothers,” assisting doctors and nurses in the care of pregnant women and new mothers attending antenatal clinics for maternity care. In this way, mothers2mothers has redefined the healthcare system by reducing the burden on existing and overwhelmed medical staff. This comprehensive and holistic service for women living with HIV/AIDS is having a significant impact on these women, their children, and, indeed, the broader healthcare system in Africa.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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