Mentoring of mothers living with HIV

[email protected] August 18, 2022

When Angelina Namiba first learned she had HIV, she was in her early twenties and had graduated from university six months early. Fear of his future quickly filled his mind.

“I remember wondering if I would ever reach the age of 30,” says Angelina. “Could I one day have children? You know, I was a young woman and I wanted to have a relationship.

Until Angelina’s friend introduced her to peer support groups, she thought she was the only woman in London living with HIV.

“For me, meeting my peers, women who were living with HIV and who also had children, was a turning point for me,” says Angelina. “I needed that kind of support. It really helped me cope at the time.

Fortunately, a lot has changed in the 29 years since Angelina found out she was living with HIV. Having her daughter five years after her diagnosis also inspired her to go further. Angelina is one of the founding members of 4M Mother Mentor Network, a grantee of Gilead, which was launched in 2016 to provide black migrant women living with HIV in the UK with a peer support system through the pregnancy journey and beyond. 4M means: “My health, My choice, My child, My life”.

Provide practical support to mothers living with HIV
The Mother Network hosts a myriad of activities, from digital literacy webinars to professional development sessions. Mentors like Angelina offer individual and group support and counselling, helping women overcome not only their diagnosis, but also challenges including housing instability and domestic violence. “It’s a matter of mutual support. It’s not about telling women what to do,” she says.

4M Mentor Mothers Network also provides support to help improve treatment adherence. “For some people, it’s easy to take medication and go on living,” she says. “But for others, it’s a big tough deal.”

The team offers practical strategies, such as using an alarm or timing medication to coincide with a meal. But sometimes there are bigger issues underlying the behaviors. For example, taking treatment every day can be a daily and painful reminder for some that they have HIV. This is where group support helps make a difference.

In addition to mentorship, 4M Mentor Mothers Network works directly with researchers, clinicians and organizations that address issues affecting women living with HIV.

Changing the HIV narrative
Angelina frequently writes and speaks publicly about her experiences living with HIV to help reduce stigma and raise awareness of the virus and the importance of treatment.

“HIV is a really tiny virus. You can only see it under a microscope. Our lives are so much bigger than HIV,” Angelina points out. “That doesn’t define who we are.”

By speaking up and serving as a spokesperson, Angelina knows she is making a difference in how people living with HIV are portrayed.

“A woman living with HIV is like you and me. We are sisters. We are friends. We are lovers. We are taxpayers. We are like anyone else, like your friend walking down the street,” she exclaims.

Although issues such as access to care and health inequities remain, Angelina has seen treatment, prevention and even stigma improve dramatically.

“We’ve come a very long way and we need to celebrate that,” she said. “I am filled with hope for the future.”

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