Introduction: Mother-to-Mother (M2M) or "Mentor Mother" programmes utilise HIV positive mothers to provide support and advice to HIV positive pregnant women and mothers of HIV exposed babies. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supported a Mentor Mother programme in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe from 2009 to 2012; with programme beneficiaries observed to have far higher retention at 6-8 weeks (99% vs 50%, p<0.0005) and to have higher adherence to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) guidelines, compared to those not opting in. In this study we explore how the M2M progamme may have contributed to these findings.
Methods: In this qualitative study we used thematic analysis of in-depth interviews (n = 79). This study was conducted in 2 urban districts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.
Results: Interviews were completed by 14 mentor mothers, 10 mentor mother family members, 30 beneficiaries (women enrolled both in PMTCT and M2M), 10 beneficiary family members, 5 women enrolled in PMTCT but who had declined to take part in the M2M programme and 10 health care staff members. All beneficiaries and health care staff reported that the programme had improved retention and provided rich information on how this was achieved. Additionally respondents described how the programme had helped bring about beneficial behaviour change.
Conclusions: M2M programmes offer great potential to empower communities affected by HIV to catalyse positive behaviour change. Our results illustrate how M2M involvement may increase retention in PMTCT programmes. Non-disclosure to one's partner, as well as some cultural practices prevalent in Zimbabwe appear to be major barriers to participation in M2M programmes.