Initiated in 2005 by IntraHealth International, Mother's Support Group (MSG) is a peer support model to address the needs of pregnant and postpartum women living with HIV and caring for babies in Ethiopia. According to the project's organisers, the programme is designed to empower mothers and mothers-to-be to access peer-based support and make linkages to services such as family planning, infant feeding counselling, nutritional guidance, antiretroviral therapy, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), and health institutional delivery.

Communication Strategies: 

According to the organisers, MSG is a product of a successful knowledge sharing partnership between IntraHealth International and the Southern African mothers2mothers (m2m) programme. The m2m and MSG programmes are based on the concept that peer support is an optimal model for effective education and social empowerment, and that mothers are particularly well-suited to provide support to other mothers. According to a document on this project, Ethiopia has the third largest number of HIV-infected people in the world. In 2007, over 8% of pregnant women in Ethiopia were estimated to be living with HIV. Without preventive interventions, more than a third of the infants born to HIV-positive mothers will go on to contract the HIV virus.

The MSG programme seeks to:

  • enhance access to and use of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services by building strong linkages between health care providers and peer support networks;
  • ensure adherence to antiretroviral therapy among pregnant and postpartum women;
  • lessen HIV-related stigma and discrimination;
  • increase HIV-positive mothers’ understanding of infant feeding options;
  • reduce the incidence of new sexually transmitted infections and HIV among girls and women;
  • increase acceptance and use of family planning among postpartum women; and
  • build linkages with other programmes and services that strengthen women’s health and decision making (i.e nutritional support, income-generating activities, and skills training).

To achieve these objectives, the MSG programme fosters several mutually reinforcing strategies for peer-to-peer contact. The programme strategy includes the following components:

  • Mentor Mothers: The mentor mothers are the linchpin of the MSG programme. The ANC nurses are trained as the site coordinators who supervise the mother mentors. The mentors are also recruited by the site coordinators. There are 4 mentor mothers per site, and 2 mentor mothers work on any given day. Mentor mothers must be willing to spend at least 3 full days per week supporting HIV-positive mothers at the health center.
  • Training of Mentor Mothers: The South Africa m2m project developed the curriculum used to train the mentor mothers. The MSG programme translated the materials into Amharic and adapted them to the Ethiopian context. The basic content of the 5-day training covers HIV transmission and infection, HIV and pregnancy, psychosocial issues, self-care, antiretroviral therapy, labour and delivery, and infant care. The trained site coordinators also attend the mentor training and present some topics.
  • Support groups: Once trained, the mentor mothers facilitate separate support group meetings for mothers-to-be and mothers. On occasion, a postpartum mother may be invited to attend a group meeting of mothers-to-be to discuss topics such as partner disclosure. The support group meetings provide a safe and open space for discussion of a variety of topics. The mentor mothers also refer support group members for care such as PMTCT and family planning services.
Development Issues: 

HIV/AIDS, Maternal Health, Children

Key Points: 

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Capacity Project is designed to help developing countries build and sustain the health workforce so they can respond systemically to the challenges of implementing and sustaining quality health programmes. The 5-year initiative, led by Intrahealth International, was launched in October 2004.

Partner Text: 

Capacity Project, IntraHealth International, United States Agency for International Development (USAID).


Mothers Support Groups [PDF] on April 16 2009.