Physician and public health researcher Mitchell Besser visited the School of Public Affairs on Oct. 4, delivering a presentation on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa. Besser is the founder of Mothers2mothers, an organization that trains mothers with HIV to work in health centers to educate and support pregnant women who are HIV-positive.
Besser talked about "task shifting" some of the responsibilities of health care education from nurses and doctors (that are always in short supply and high demand) to the mothers, and utilizing new technologies such as mobile phones to expand the scope of care.
As an obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Besser professional career has been dedicated to the public health needs of women. In 1999, Dr. Besser joined the University of Cape Town's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, assisting with the development of services to meet the needs of pregnant women living with HIV and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children (PMTCT). Dr. Besser recognized the need for an education and psychosocial support program that would contribute to PMTCT services achieving the best medical and social outcomes. Hoping to fill this void, he founded mothers2mothers in which mothers with HIV are employed to work in health centers, educating and supporting pregnant women and new mothers with HIV; reducing the workload of doctors and nurses and increasing the effectiveness of interventions that reduce the number of babies born with HIV and keep mothers healthy and alive to raise their children. Since its inception in 2001, the program has grown to provide services in more than 680 health care facilities in nine countries in Africa, with more than 3 million contacts with woman each year, reaching 20% of the HIV-positive pregnant women in the world. Dr. Besser has received Global Health Council’s Best Practice Award, Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, Presidential Citizens Award of the United States Government and is an Ashoka and Schwab Fellow. He has presented at TED, appeared on BBC’s Forum and has given a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.