At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we work with organizations that recognize the value community health workers bring to the health system—partners who share our commitment to empowering these individuals to deliver real health outcomes. One such partner is mothers2mothers (m2m), which employs women living with HIV as community health workers to deliver life-changing services to women, children, adolescents and entire families.
We take a look back on our long-standing collaboration with m2m, and reflect on three characteristics we have observed first-hand that make m2m a formidable force in the fight against HIV/AIDS, while empowering women with meaningful employment and improving the health of families and communities across 10 African nations.
1. Willingness to change
Through careful deliberation, m2m has evolved from its initial focus on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to providing family-centered support from pregnancy and childhood to adolescence across a range of related health issues. Over the years, m2m has continued to test and refine its model to address the needs of its clients, the changing nature of the HIV epidemic, evolving public health challenges and policy environments, and shifting socio-economic realities. This has meant delivering new services, constantly improving delivery of existing services through a model of differentiated care, and embracing mHealth technology and its benefits.
This forward-looking, flexible approach has never been more needed than in the past two years. Widespread fear and confusion caused by COVID-19 has prevented people from accessing health services and treatment across the African continent. It has resulted in never-before-seen levels of disruption in education—devastating for adolescents in the communities that m2m serves—and has threatened to reverse the gains made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV and add hundreds of thousands of deaths from HIV.
Agility, resilience and openness to change meant that m2m was uniquely positioned to adapt their service delivery approach quickly and effectively during the pandemic, while keeping their clients and frontline staff healthy and safe. Building on their track record of successfully integrating technology, m2m accelerated the Virtual Mentor Mother Platform (VMMP) and trained Peer Mentors to rely more heavily on phones to deliver services during COVID-19. Through a combination of in-person and remote services, m2m was able to provide unbroken support to their clients to access HIV treatments, ensure safe and healthy pregnancies, alleviate fears about visiting health centers, and support clients in making informed choices for their health and future—all while providing relevant, timely information about COVID-19 to the communities they serve.
2. Commitment to learning and rigorous M&E
m2m seeks to strengthen efforts to end HIV/AIDS and achieve better health outcomes through increased investment in monitoring and evaluation, and through a rigorous focus on quality assurance and quality improvement systems. The result is robust evidence-based decisions to increase impact and shorten feedback loops.
“mothers2mothers’ willingness to change and adapt is underpinned by their commitment to strong measurement and evaluation,” says Joanne Peter, Director for Social Innovation at Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation. “This has enabled mothers2mothers to course correct when needed and respond quickly in a time of crisis.”
m2m’s ongoing strategic investment in technology and changes in systems and designs has helped them to refine their ability to effectively measure impact and act on data, adds Peter. “Refusing to rest on their laurels, mothers2mothers embraces continuous learning and improvement—a testament to their commitment to enhancing quality of life for more people.”
3. Commitment to local leadership and capacity-building
From a single site serving fewer than 100 clients in 2001, m2m has scaled its footprint to 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, delivering health services and education to over a million people each year, and developing a deep bench of local African leadership and broad expertise.
m2m continues to invest in its people through employee leadership capacity-building, the provision of resources for senior leadership and key line staff, and next generation technical training and supportive supervision. It also supports government commitments, catalyses the provision of female community health workers by initiating and strengthening community-led advocacy, and supports global efforts to prioritize frontline healthcare worker professionalization, recruitment and retention.
“In the past two decades, mothers2mothers has made significant strides in professionalizing community health workers and placing them at the heart of care,” says Laura Nel, Director for Global Community Impact, Africa. “mothers2mothers’ strong commitment to investing in people has broadened career paths for Mentor Mothers, who are a pinnacle example of how recruiting, training and engaging local health workers delivers not just health outcomes, but also economic empowerment and local leadership.”
We congratulate mothers2mothers on reaching their 20th anniversary milestone, and are proud of what we have achieved in our 16 years of working together.
Learn more about mothers2mothers’ 20 years of impact here.