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In Africa, HIV disease presents a huge health burden, necessitating a greater need for specialist healthcare services. This demand has led to a shortage of available health workers and the need to educate and employ lay health workers (LHWs) as opposed to professional ones. LHW programmes can play an important role in the health of many, including mothers and children.

LHWs are individuals with no tertiary professional healthcare training that receive basic training to enable them to perform a particular health intervention. The LHW role is diverse and can include one-to-one meetings with patients in health facilities or within communities. They can also help with sensitisation campaigns, such as those surrounding HIV testing and the feeding and early diagnosis of infants.

LHWs can have a positive impact on Maternal and Child Health (MCH) services. Home visits can greatly improve antenatal and postnatal care and improve mother-child health outcomes. For example, an LHW programme led to a 50% increase in exclusive breastfeeding for mothers living with HIV. The rates increased by a further 6% with each visit by a community healthcare worker.

mothers2mothers is an LHW programme that has developed a Mentor Mother Model. The programme is committed to the importance of peer-based health advice and delivery. mothers2mothers employs HIV-positive women as frontline health workers, ensuring mothers can both serve their community and benefit from the training and experience of their peers.

As a charity focussed on easing the strain on Africa’s health systems, mothers2mothers seeks to fund LHWs and empower women by providing accurate healthcare information and advice. It also welcomes charitable contributions in the form of fundraisers, the Global Giving Circle or one-off donations. Joey Horn has previously been a supporter of mothers2mothers and still has many other charitable associations today.

Dr Kathrin Schmitz is Director of Programmes and Technical Support at mothers2mothers. As lead author of a recent scoping review of LHW programmes, Schmitz helped synthesise the results from existing studies, enabling a clearer view of the role of LHW programmes and their impact over the past decade. The review found evidence of multiple benefits brought from employing LHWs. These included prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), improved family planning, and better maternal mental health care.

The review confirms that mothers2mothers’ peer-based model of healthcare delivery can provide positive outcomes for countries with a need for lay health workers.