Blog Archives

Happy New Year!

We wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who sent a special Chasing Zero Christmas present. Thanks to you, we have raised enough to support hundreds of mums and babies in Malawi through a safe delivery at their local clinic or hospital – and hopefully your friends and family members liked their presents too!

We were especially touched that over a third of you opted to twin a pregnancy as a Christmas gift. Every twinned pregnancy provides the funds for a Mother Buddy to support a woman in Malawi through her entire pregnancy, delivery, and the first six months of her new baby’s life.

The advice, practical help and friendship that mums in isolated communities receive from their Mother Buddies really is life-changing, and often life-saving, especially for women living with HIV. One woman recently told us:

“I am HIV positive and I have a baby who tested HIV negative. My Mother Buddy visited [while] I was pregnant and through delivery. She taught me about exclusive breastfeeding and how to prepare for delivery. She also taught about positive living, especially on how to deal with worries that I am HIV positive. My worries are now gone and I am now healthy and my children have benefited due to my strong health.”

Thank you again on their behalf!

Our new animation explains a little bit more about Pregnancy Twinning – check it out below, and share if you like it.

>> Click here to twin a pregnancy or find out more.

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It’s time for the nativity play.

Some of us give the nativity a lot of thought at Christmas, others less so, but it’s easy for us all to picture the scene something like this: Mary is smiling happily, the baby is delivered with much joy and lies cosily in a bed of straw, surrounded by friendly cows, cute five year-olds dressed as shepherds and maybe a lobster (some imaginative casting goes on at nativity plays nowadays).

The reality of giving birth in conditions like these is rather different. Mary is almost alone, with only a carpenter and some sheep for help – nobody who knows anything about childbirth. She knows women can die having babies. It’s unhygienic in that stable and there probably isn’t even any clean water to wash the baby in. It’s not very cosy – in fact, it’s dangerous.

Women still give birth like this in many rural places around the world. For the women we work with in Malawi, it’s the norm. The nearest clinic or hospital may be 20 miles away and their only mode of transport is walking, so there’s little choice but to give birth at home where conditions are basic.

They are likely to know other women or babies who have died giving birth (women there are 60 times more likely to die than women in the UK), but without any medical knowledge on hand, there’s nothing that can be done if complications arise.

It’s so easy to prevent these tragedies. Simple advice from a Mother Buddy and access to transport can turn everything around.

“[My Mother Buddy] has assisted me in preparing for the delivery… without her intervention I would not have known about these things, I would have probably delivered on the way to hospital or at home. I delivered at hospital because of her advice.” – a new mother, Malawi.

Noel and Tikhani (800x489)

Let’s write some good nativity stories this Christmas! You can join in by sending somebody a different kind of Christmas present that helps pay for a safe delivery in Malawi. For £15, your friend or family member receives a lovely hand-made nativity decoration and a personalised card, and £10 will be spent in Malawi.

That small donation will pay for the cost of transport to the nearest clinic or hospital (probably on a hardy motorbike-taxi), and for the equipment that a woman needs to take with her when she’s preparing to give birth – things like clean cloths, basins and baby supplies that we would expect the clinic to lay on for us in the UK!

With the wheels to get there and the equipment needed, an expectant mum can give birth safely, surrounded by medical professionals who will make sure that mum and baby are fit and well before they’re sent home.

Would you bring a smile to a friend or family member on Christmas day, and unleash some joy for a family in Malawi too? Click here to check out our special Christmas presents and help to write some more good nativity stories!

Thanks, have a great Christmas, and enjoy that nativity play!

Photo: Peter C, reproduced under Creative Commons.

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It’s World AIDS Day today, and we’re celebrating the huge amount of progress that has been made towards defeating AIDS for good.

The UN announced earlier in the year that we could be on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 – if the world makes the right investments now.

Today’s figures show that new HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000 – with a massive 58% fewer infections among children. That’s largely due to reduced mother-to-child transmission.

AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 42% since the peak in 2004. The global response to HIV has saved nearly 8 million lives since 2000.

Ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy for 15.8 million people was thought impossible 15 years ago. In 2000, fewer than 1% of people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries had access to treatment. But in 2014, the global coverage of people receiving ARV therapy was 40%. We have made huge progress!

But we need to keep chasing zero! To take the AIDS response forward, the UN has developed a Fast-Track approach to reach a set of targets by 2020. One of these is zero new HIV infections among children by 2020, and mothers living with HIV kept alive and well. We are pursuing this goal, alongside chasing zero AIDS-related deaths, in sub-Saharan Africa through the work of our Mother Buddies and the Pregnancy Twinning programme. Giving expectant mothers support and advice during pregnancy – including access to ARV therapy – is proving to be a very effective way to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to keep whole families affected by HIV healthy and well.

We can’t wait to see a whole generation born free from HIV – and it’s exciting to know that it could happen in the next ten or fifteen years.

If you’d like to join the chase this Christmas, you can make a difference by sending a Chasing Zero Christmas present. You can send somebody you know a special card and gift, and make a donation on their behalf that pays for a woman in Malawi to give birth safely at a clinic or hospital, or to get support throughout her whole pregnancy through Pregnancy Twinning, including accessing ARV treatment if she’s living with HIV. Find out more here. Thanks for helping to change the world!

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We’re really pleased to report that the Mother Buddies programme (also known as IMPACT – improving parent and child outcomes) has just been selected as one of the best initiatives tackling HIV in Malawi.

The award for best practice was commissioned by Malawi’s National AIDS Commission, with Chancellor College and the College of Medicine acting as consultants.

102 projects were initially considered, whittled down to 28 after a first round of scrutiny. After a second round, 10 winners emerged, which will be published as examples of best practice – including the Mother Buddies programme!

We have been very encouraged by the results achieved by the Mother Buddies programme, and it’s great to see it being affirmed at a national level as one of the most effective ways to tackle mother to child transmission of HIV. IMPACT is also one of only a few programmes that, due to its fantastic results, has continued after its main funding grant (from Irish Aid) has finished. IMPACT is now being supported by Chasing Zero and Tearfund.

We are chasing not only zero AIDS-related deaths but also zero new infections, and the Mother Buddies programme is making a big contribution to achieving these goals! Your continued support of Chasing Zero is really saving lives and enabling a new generation to be born HIV-free.

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We recently completed a full evaluation of our Mother Buddy programme in Malawi and thought you might like to see the results.

What are Mother Buddies again?

We train up local women in sub-Saharan Africa to become Mother Buddies. These inspiring women are living with HIV themselves, but thanks to ARV treatment and support, they’ve given birth to HIV-free children. Keen to help other mums in their area, they visit vulnerable women during their pregnancy and for six months after birth, providing advice, support and care.

What difference does the programme make?

A full evaluation of the IMPACT Mother Buddy programme was completed in January 2015. It compared a range of indicators between two groups of women – those who had been supported by Mother Buddies, and a control group of similar women. The results are in, and below are some of the findings about women with Mother Buddies.

They get better antenatal care. 61% attended four or more appointments during their last pregnancy, compared to 44% of other local women. They got antenatal care earlier in their pregnancies, and were more likely to see a doctor.

They give birth more safely. They were more likely to have their babies delivered by doctors, and in hospitals rather than at home. Since Mother Buddies have been operating, birth plan usage has increased dramatically from 5% to 67%.

They get HIV treatment. Almost all HIV positive mothers with a Mother Buddy had been given advice about preventing mother to child transmission of HIV, and almost all the HIV positive women were accessing treatment – that’s a 50% improvement.

Their families stay healthier. The proportion of women eating three meals a day was 40% higher among those supported by a Mother Buddy. They were also more likely to have mosquito nets, helping to prevent malaria.

Dads are more involved. 69% of women supported by Mother Buddies were accompanied to antenatal care by their partners (compared to only 54% of other local women).

They are equipped with knowledge. Women with a Mother Buddy knew more about HIV and maternal health, with 80% showing a comprehensive knowledge.

They feel supported. These women cited their Mother Buddy as their main source of emotional and social support. One woman said: “I do not have the worries about my HIV status that I used to. My Mother Buddy has taught me how to live without worries during pregnancy.”

All of this put together means that women supported by our Mother Buddies are more likely to have a safe pregnancy and birth, and a healthy child born free from HIV!

A big thanks to everybody who supports the Mother Buddy programme, whether by sponsoring a Mother Buddy, twinning their pregnancy, or sending a Mother’s or Father’s Day card. As you can see, you’re making a huge difference!

To stay in touch with what our Mother Buddies are doing on the ground, follow us on Twitter or Facebook where we post some of their live updates and photos.

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The world has exceeded the AIDS targets of Millennium Development Goal 6 and is on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

We are very excited by this news! Thank you to everybody who has contributed to this fantastic achievement through supporting Chasing Zero.

Press release from UNAIDS follows:

ADDIS ABABA/GENEVA, 14 July 2015 – The AIDS targets of MDG 6 – halting and reversing the spread of HIV – have been achieved and exceeded, according to a new report released today by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). New HIV infections have fallen by 35% and AIDS-related deaths by 41%. The global response to HIV has averted 30 million new HIV infections and nearly 8 million (7.8 million) AIDS-related deaths since 2000, when the MDGs were set.

“The world has delivered on halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic,” said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Now we must commit to ending the AIDS epidemic as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Released in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the sidelines of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, the report demonstrates that the response to HIV has been one of the smartest investments in global health and development, generating measurable results for people and economies. It also shows that the world is on track to meet the investment target of US$ 22 billion for the AIDS response by 2015 and that concerted action over the next five years can end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“Fifteen years ago there was a conspiracy of silence. AIDS was a disease of the “others” and treatment was for the rich and not for the poor,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “We proved them wrong, and today we have 15 million people on treatment -15 million success stories.”

How AIDS changed everything – MDG 6: 15 years, 15 lesson of hope from the AIDS response celebrates the milestone achievement of 15 million people on antiretroviral treatment – an accomplishment deemed impossible when the MDGs were established 15 years ago. It also looks at the incredible impact the AIDS response has had on people’s lives and livelihoods, on families, communities and economies, as well as the remarkable influence the AIDS response has had on many of the other MDGs. The report includes specific lessons to take forward into the SDGs, as well as the urgent need to front-load investments and streamline programmes for a five-year sprint to set the world on an irreversible path to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Achieving MDG 6: halting and reversing the spread of HIV

In 2000, the world was witnessing an extraordinary number of new HIV infections. Every day, 8500 people were becoming newly infected with the virus and 4300 people were dying of AIDS-related illnesses. How AIDS changed everything describes how, against all odds, huge rises in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths were halted and reversed.

New HIV infections

In 2000, AIDS began to be taken seriously. Far-sighted global leadership rallied, and the response that ensued made history. Between 2000 and 2014, new HIV infections dropped from 3.1 million to 2 million, a reduction of 35%. Had the world stood back to watch the epidemic unfold, the annual number of new HIV infections is likely to have risen to around 6 million by 2014.

In 2014, the report shows that 83 countries, which account for 83% of all people living with HIV, have halted or reversed their epidemics, including countries with major epidemics, such as India, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“As a mother living with HIV I did everything in my capacity to ensure my children were born HIV-free, said Abiyot Godana from the Ethiopian community of people living with HIV. “My husband has grabbed my vision of ending AIDS and together we won’t let go of this hope. Our two children are a part of an AIDS-free generation and will continue our legacy.” Ethiopia has made significant progress in preventing new HIV infections among children. In 2000, around 36 000 children became infected with HIV. However, by 2014 that number had dropped by 87%, to 4800, as coverage of antiretroviral therapy to prevent new HIV infections among children increased to 73%.

Stopping new HIV infections among children has been one of the most remarkable successes in the AIDS response. In 2000, around 520 000 children became newly infected with HIV. In the absence of antiretroviral therapy, children were dying in large numbers. This injustice prompted the world to act—ensuring that pregnant women living with HIV had access to medicines to prevent their children from becoming infected with the virus became a top global priority.

The unprecedented action that followed achieved results. Between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of pregnant women living with HIV with access to antiretroviral therapy rose to 73% and new HIV infections among children dropped by 58%.

By 2014, UNAIDS estimates that 85 countries had less than 50 new HIV infections among children per year, and in 2015 Cuba became the first country to be certified by the World Health Organization as having eliminated new HIV infections among children.

AIDS-related deaths

The second, critical measure for determining the success of MDG 6 is progress in halting and reversing the number of AIDS-related deaths. In 2000, AIDS was a death sentence. People who became infected with HIV had just a few years to live and the vast majority of children born with the virus died before they reached their fifth birthday.

Against incredible odds, the pace of antiretroviral therapy scale-up increased, ensuring more people remained alive and well. By 2005, AIDS-related deaths began to reverse, falling by 42% from 2004 to 2014.

Making the impossible, possible – 15 million people on HIV treatment

Ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy for 15 million people is an achievement deemed impossible 15 years ago. In 2000, fewer than 1% of people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries had access to treatment, as the sky-high prices of medicines – around US$ 10 000 per person per year – put them out of reach. The inequity of access and injustice sparked global moral outrage, which created one of the most defining achievements of the response to HIV – massive reductions in the price of life-saving antiretroviral medicines.

By 2014, advocacy, activism, science, political will and a willingness by the pharmaceutical companies has brought the price of medicines for HIV down by 99%, to around US$ 100 per person per year for first-line formulations.

In 2014, 40% of all people living with HIV had access to antiretroviral therapy, a 22-fold increase over the past 14 years. In sub-Saharan Africa, 10.7 million people had access, 6.5 million (61%) of whom were women.

Ensuring treatment for 15 million people around the world proves beyond a doubt that treatment can be scaled up even in resource-poor settings.

As access to treatment increased, the world raised the bar and has repeatedly set ambitious targets, culminating in today’s call of ensuring access to treatment for all 36.9 million people living with HIV.

Progress in ensuring access to HIV treatment has, however, been slower for children than for adults. As of 2014, only 32% of the 2.6 million children living with HIV had been diagnosed and only 32% of children living with HIV had access to antiretroviral therapy.

While the price of first-line medicines has reduced significantly, the prices of second and new generation medicines are still much too high and need to be urgently negotiated down.

Knowledge ensures access

How AIDS changed everything includes exciting new information about access to treatment once people know their HIV status. Some 75% of people who know they have the virus are accessing antiretroviral therapy, showing that the majority of people do come forward for treatment and have access once they are diagnosed with HIV.

This emphasizes the urgent need to scale up HIV testing. In 2014, only 54% (19.8 million) of the 36.9 million people who are living with HIV knew that they are living with the virus.

An investment, not a cost

How AIDS changed everything shows how the economic impact is one of the greatest achievements of the response to HIV and one that will continue to yield results in years to come.

“The world went from millions to billions and each dollar invested today is producing a US$ 17 return,” said Mr Sidibé. “If we frontload investments and Fast-Track our efforts over the next five years, we will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.”

Since 2000, an estimated US$ 187 billion has been invested in the AIDS response, US$ 90 billion of which came from domestic sources. By 2014, around 57% of AIDS investments came from domestic sources and 50 countries invested more than 75% of their responses from their own budgets – a big success for country ownership.

The United States of America has invested more than US$ 59 billion in the AIDS response and is the largest international contributor. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria invests nearly US$ 4 billion each year towards AIDS programmes and has disbursed more than US$ 15.7 billion since its creation in 2002.

The report also shows that the next five years will be critical. Front-loading investments in the fragile five-year window up to 2020 could reduce new HIV infections by 89% and AIDS-related deaths by 81% by 2030.

Current investments in the AIDS response are around US$ 22 billion a year. That would need to be increased by US$ 8–12 billion a year in order to meet the Fast-Track Target of US$ 31.9 billion in 2020. By meeting the 2020 target, the need for resources would begin to permanently decline, reducing to US$ 29.3 billion in 2030 and far less in the future. This would produce benefits of more than US$ 3.2 trillion that extend well beyond 2030.

The report underscores that international assistance, especially for low-income and low-middle-income countries, will be necessary in the short term before sustainable financing can be secured in the long term. Sub-Saharan Africa will require the largest share of global AIDS financing: US$ 15.8 billion in 2020.

Countries that took charge have produced results

Countries that rapidly mounted robust responses to their epidemics saw impressive results. In 1980, life expectancy in Zimbabwe was around 60 years of age. In 2000, when the MDGs were set, life expectancy had dropped to just 44 years of age, largely owing to the impact of the AIDS epidemic. By 2013, however, life expectancy had risen again to 60 years of age as new HIV infections were reduced and access to antiretroviral treatment expanded.

Ethiopia has been particularly affected by the AIDS response, with 73 000 people dying of AIDS-related illnesses in 2000. Concerted efforts by the Ethiopian government have secured a drop of 71% in AIDS-related deaths between the peak in 2005 and 2014.

In Senegal, one of the earliest success stories of the global AIDS response, new HIV infections have declined by more than 87% since 2000. Similarly, Thailand, another success story, has reduced new HIV infections by 71% and AIDS-related deaths by 64%.

South Africa turned around its decline in life expectancy within 10 years, rising from 51 years in 2005 to 61 by the end of 2014, on the back a massive increase in access to antiretroviral therapy. South Africa has the largest HIV treatment programme in the world, with more than 3.1 million people on antiretroviral therapy, funded almost entirely from domestic sources. In the last five years alone, AIDS-related deaths have declined by 58% in South Africa.

Leaving no one behind

Much progress has been made in expanding HIV prevention services for key populations, even though significant gaps remain. Although more than 100 countries criminalize some form of sex work, sex workers continue to report the highest levels of condom use in the world—more than 80% in most regions.

Drug use remains criminalized in most countries, yet many do allow access to needle–syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy. In 2014, HIV prevalence appears to have declined among people who inject drugs in almost all regions.

However, new HIV infections are rising among men who have sex with men, notably in western Europe and North America, where major declines were previously experienced. This indicates that HIV prevention efforts need to be adapted to respond to the new realities and needs of men who have sex with men.

The number of adult men who have opted for voluntary medical male circumcision to prevent HIV transmission continues to increase. From 2008 to December 2014, about 9.1 million men in 14 priority countries opted to be circumcised. In 2014 alone, 3.2 million men in 14 priority countries were circumcised. Ethiopia and Kenya have both already exceeded their target of 80% coverage.

Tuberculosis (TB) remains a leading cause of death among people living with HIV, accounting for one in five AIDS-related deaths globally. However, between 2004 and 2014, TB deaths declined by 33% thanks to the rapid increase in antiretroviral treatment, which reduces the risk that a person living with HIV will develop TB by 65%.

Some 74 countries reported having laws in place prohibiting discrimination against people living with HIV. However, at present, 61 countries have legislation that allows for the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission. In 76 countries, same-sex sexual practices are criminalized. In seven countries they are punishable by death.

Transgender people are not recognized as a separate gender in most countries and are generally absent from public policy formulation and social protection programmes. The world remains far short of achieving its goal of eliminating gender inequalities and gender-based violence and abuse.

Better data

Countries have invested heavily in monitoring and evaluating their responses to HIV. In 2014, 92% of United Nations Member States reported HIV data to UNAIDS. State-of-the-art epidemic monitoring, data collection and reporting have made HIV data the most robust in the world, far more complete than data for any other disease. This has not only enabled the world to have a clear picture of HIV trends, it has also enabled HIV programming to be tailored to the specific dynamics of each country’s epidemic.

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I’m in the middle of my second pregnancy. It’s reminding me how many worries there can be, but also how much help I have to set my mind at rest.

Step one: taking the test.

Really, we know for weeks before telling anybody. My husband and I hold back emotionally, just in case – things can go wrong. Choosing a morning when we’re both around, the stick is unceremoniously peed upon and, as expected, our second born is on the horizon. But perhaps it was a lingering caution that kept me from booking an appointment to confirm it.

Step two: visiting the midwife

A creeping excitement that it’s been almost twelve weeks by my estimations. Sick, but finally up and out of bed, I visit the GP. Yes, our second born is on the way!

I see the midwife for the first time at the turn of the New Year. Reams of data about my medical history are collected. I’ve met the midwife and am now entered into an automated process of booking a scan. I go home clutching that tell-tale blue folder, a mine of information about the nine months (and a bit more) ahead. Still I consult the web every spare few moments for titbits of information on development; how many centimetres and what vegetable or  fruit the baby is nearly the size of. It’s familiar, and I really do take the reliable NHS site and resources for granted.

I’ve read about Chasing Zero, and my mind wanders to what happens in other places, like the Malawian countryside. Without help, most women there will know next to nothing about what’s going on in their bodies at this stage. When I think of all the questions and worries I have and how reassured I am by these sources of information, I really see the value of the Mother Buddy programme. A Mother Buddy gives expectant mums support, advice and information, and encourages them to start going for antenatal checks.

Step three: the ultrasound

We parents do hear our share of scare stories. But after seeing that perfectly-formed human shape wriggling, kicking and stretching after only twelve weeks, my fears are finally largely allayed. I don’t know that child or their full medical state but now I’ve had a little glimpse. Mercifully, it’s good news for us: that little sprout is flourishing somehow, into our son or daughter. Happy days!

It’s a baby! Why does that surprise me? I can now really look forward to meeting them. Birthing centre, home birth or the security of hospital – I know that I have options that so many women in the world don’t have. In remote parts of the world, being able to give birth at a medical facility can be the difference between life and death.

Step four: the bump and the scan

The bump is really growing now, outgrowing your wardrobe is one piece of evidence! I can hardly wait for the 20-week scan.

I remember it first time around – it put me in awe in a way that nothing else ever really has. How can you possibly check the position of kidneys in there, and the hemispheres of the brain? Phenomenal.

And it’s phenomenal again the second time around. The niggling doubts are put aside when all looks well. It strikes me as amazing that all that’s asked for in return for this unforgettable experience is a voluntary donation, not even mentioned by the sonographer.

I’m reminded of the beauties of what we get from the UK health service, flawed as it is in places. I really can’t imagine getting through pregnancy without all this help and care. It inspires me to do what I can to share the gift of antenatal care with another woman who wouldn’t otherwise get it. I decide to twin my pregnancy with a woman in a remote village in Malawi, so that she can be visited by a Mother Buddy, get advice and support and enjoy her pregnancy with her worries put to rest, like me.

You can twin your pregnancy – or a friend’s – and give another woman the support and care that we all need during pregnancy. Find out more here.

Blog by Nicholette, a mum from the UK who is currently expecting her second child.

Image: Dr. Wolfgang Moroder.

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My experience of having a baby has been full of things I didn’t expect.

My name is Esther. I live with my husband and our little one in a village in Malawi. When I became pregnant, a woman who works as a Mother Buddy started to visit me. She came to teach me and my husband about safe motherhood.

My Mother Buddy advised me to start going to an antenatal clinic when I was just three months pregnant. I didn’t realise how important this was. She also advised me to go for an HIV test. She told me that she was living with HIV herself, but since getting treatment she had had children born without HIV. After hearing her story, I was keen to follow her advice. Like her, I tested HIV positive but I started treatment and my baby was born HIV negative.

We were so happy and amazed! My husband did not know that HIV positive parents can have a child who is HIV negative, and we also did not know that an HIV positive mother can breastfeed. My Mother Buddy was able to help me and my husband to understand these things.

My Mother Buddy has kept visiting after our baby was born, and she taught us about good nutrition. Now, as long as the food is available, I have been able to cook nutritious meals for my family.

She has made such a difference in our family life, and everybody can see it. Our village elders are very happy that we are visiting the hospital and that the Mother Buddy is visiting us here at home.

Sometimes I think about the problems I could have had with my pregnancy if I hadn’t gone to the clinic, or how my little one could have been born with HIV. Things could have been so different, and I feel very grateful. This project really needs to continue so that it can reach other pregnant women in this village.

Based closely on feedback received from a woman in Malawi who has been supported by a Mother Buddy. Esther’s name has been changed.

You can make sure that another woman like Esther gets the help and support of a Mother Buddy by getting involved in Pregnancy Twinning. Click here to find out more.

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I won’t be giving my mum a present this Mothers’ Day

It’s not because I’m heartless, or an ungrateful daughter. The thing is, my mum appreciates the sentiment, but she can take or leave a bunch of flowers or some heart-shaped lavender soap. This year I’ve found out about some other mums who might value my gift a lot more.

Being a mother is a lot more dangerous in some parts of the world. In Malawi, women are 60 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in the UK . This sounds like one of those sad and scary statistics that we can’t do anything about. But when I read the reasons for this situation it became obvious that there are simple, effective solutions.

For example, pregnant women in remote villages can’t afford to travel to a clinic, so most never get any medical check-ups. Solution? Provide the means for them to attend antenatal appointments to spot any potential complications.

Most women give birth at home, with just their family to help, which is when things can go wrong. Solution? Help them to give birth at a clinic – this hugely increases the chances of staying safe.

New and expectant mums in rural areas don’t have anybody to tell them how to keep themselves and their baby safe. Solution? Send a trained local mother to visit, advise and support them before and after the birth.

We can provide all of these solutions to an expectant mum in Malawi for just £40, or £1 per week of their pregnancy. For a few pounds, we can see babies born HIV-free, and mothers staying alive and healthy. Even a small donation makes a big difference.

So, I’m going to take the money I would have spent on a (probably pretty tacky) present for my mum, and spend it on a much better present for a mum in Malawi instead. I think my mother will be proud of me, and probably won’t miss the soap... How about you?

To send a priceless gift to an expectant mum in Malawi and make your mother proud, Click here

Post by Mel Carlisle

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“I have learnt a lot from the Mother Buddies… It is important that women deliver at the clinic as the clinic has all the necessary instruments to take care of the mother and the baby.”

I read this testimony from a mum in Malawi the other day, and it reminded me of a slightly traumatic event from my past. Four years ago, I babysat my nephew while my pregnant sister and her husband went out for her birthday. When they came back, my sister casually told me that she thought she might be having contractions, but not to worry…

At about 2am, they woke me up to say that yes, it was definitely contractions and they were just leaving for the hospital. This was all very exciting, until at the front door my sister suddenly cried: “Stop! I’m having the baby NOW!!”

She couldn’t get in the car. She really was having the baby now. On the living room floor.
The next ten minutes involved my panicking brother-in-law on the phone to the emergency services, receiving instructions. “You’ll need to get some towels…”

“I’ll get towels!” I cried, happy to have something to do – I ran off around the house opening and closing cupboards like a mad woman.

We were both deadly afraid that the ambulance wasn’t going to reach us in time and we were going to have to deliver a baby...Ourselves.

Now imagine being in that situation without a calm, competent, qualified person on the other end of the phone. That, I now realise, is the normal state of affairs for families who live in remote and rural places like villages in Malawi. Perhaps their neighbours have seen a few births before (unlike me), but they are not medically trained. I imagine that first-time fathers and the rest of the family are just as frightened as me and my brother-in-law when a woman goes into labour right in front of them.

The sad result is that a lot of women and babies there do die during childbirth. Women are 25 times more likely to lose their lives than here in the UK. Complications happen, and family and friends don’t know what to do or don’t have the equipment to be able to help. Those families must feel so helpless.

Where there are no emergency services or ambulances, we can help by arranging transport to get expectant mums to a clinic in time. Often what’s needed is a local Mother Buddy to stay in touch with a woman throughout her pregnancy, explain how important it is to give birth where there is medical help, and then make sure she gets there on the crucial day. We’re seeing deaths during childbirth massively reduced by doing this.

My sister had had a complicated first delivery and did not want to give birth, unprepared, on the living room floor with only hapless relatives to help. I know this because she yelled, “Get me to the hospital!!” Luckily for us, the ambulance got there just in time. They sped off and a paramedic delivered my niece in the back of the ambulance in the hospital car park. Then it was a very short walk to the ward where she and the baby were well looked after, checked over and cared for before they went home.

I would like all women and their new babies to receive that sort of care. And I would like to know that families in Malawi have expert help on hand during labour, like I did. If you’d like to help make that happen, perhaps you could sponsor a Mother Buddy, or twin your pregnancy!

Mel Carlisle, Chasing Zero Writer

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