Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for two-thirds of people living with HIV globally. Youth in the region, particularly young women and girls, are disproportionately vulnerable to the virus because of associated stigmas and limitations in testing and treatment access. Zvandiri, a non-profit program run by Africaid, was created in 2004 as a response to this issue. The initiative connects youth living with HIV to trained counsellors also living with HIV called Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters (CATS). Through peer support initiatives, CATS improve access to HIV testing and treatment while also providing mental health support to other youth living with HIV their communities. Their holistic and peer-based approach is the linchpin to Zvandiri’s success. The organization has expanded to 9 African countries with 1600 CATS supporting 56,000 youths. They aim to expand their model to 20 countries by 2030 and reach 1 million youth living with HIV.
This case report will examine the operations of Zvandiri’s Young Mentor Mother (YMM) program. The YMM initiative operates in a similar way to the CATS model, with the key difference being that all of its mentors and clients are young mothers living with HIV. Our report will explore the ways in which these more specific shared experiences impact the efficacy of the YMM model, as well as the challenges and successes that it has faced so far in bolstering young mothers’ access to HIV testing and treatment. Since the YMM program has only been implemented in parts of Zimbabwe thus far, the report will have a particular focus on the potential for scaling the program to other regions and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Hard to Reach
Young pregnant or breastfeeding women living with HIV and disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of the HIV epidemic.
Based on 29 interviews conducted with Zvandiri staff and volunteers, researchers found that peer supporters are most effective when they:
- Have more shared experiences with their clients (e.g., with respect to age, gender, and HIV serostatus)
- Receive comprehensive support that promotes empowerment and all-around well-being for both the Young Mentor Mothers and mentees
- Receive adequate organizational support and resources to maximize the benefits for all of those involved, from carer performance to carer health and well-being
This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.
We express our sincere gratitude to everyone at Zvandiri for their continued support and help with our research efforts. A special thank you to Nicola Willis, Abigail Mutsinze, Vivian Chitiyo, Peggy Kuchocha, and Marvelous Muchenje, who were so helpful throughout the entire research process. We thank them for providing us with excellent and vital feedback for our report. We are also grateful to the staff and volunteers who participated in this research and provided us with such insightful interview responses. Finally, we thank Moni Kim, Ashima Kaura, Kimberly Skead, and Professor Carmen Logie for all of their guidance and mentorship throughout the research process.