While in London a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of attending a dinner party with Annie Lennox. The main topic of conversation was the African organization Mothers2Mothers (M2M) which she actively supports. Annie Lennox rocks in more ways than one. She is engaged, articulate, passionate and thoughtful about making change on behalf of women with HIV/AIDS. And she has an unsettling but compelling analysis.
She reminded us that UN AIDS has stated that AIDS related illnesses are the major cause of death of women of reproductive age in the world. She talked of hearing Nelson Mandela standing in front of his prison
cell on Robben Island, a few years ago addressing the world's press.
She has taken to heart his characterization that the the pandemic of
HIV/Aids in Africa was in fact, a genocide. In a private conversation she shared that more people have died of AIDS than the total deaths of World War One and Two combined. She wants the world to understand that HIV and
AIDS pandemic has become a women's issue. She talked about the violence, rape, lack of medical support, unavailability of drugs, banishment, poverty and basic struggle for survival experienced by these mothers. She wonders, and it's hard not to agree, whether one of the reasons these staggering statistics are being ignored is because HIV/AIDS primarily affects women and children.
She told the story of going to a large big box store in South Africa and noticing stacks and stacks of different sized boxes. Her curiosity turned to horror when she realized these weren't boxes but children's coffins. If there is more tragedy from this pandemic it is the loss of young babies and children due to mother to child transmission. Each year more babies are born with HIV in one clinic in Africa than in
Canada, the US and England combined. I doubt I will ever get this image out of my mind.
If I do, it will be the result of work stemming from Annie's Foundation and groups like Mothers 2 Mothers. Their focus is on preventing HIV infection from mothers to newborn. Aside from providing medical care and treatment they offer one other resource – the support of other mothers who have HIV as well. These mothers are trained as peer mentors and educators. While the treatment is straightforward, a single dose of medication to
the mother during labour and a dose to her baby shortly after birth, the social and emotional barriers are big. Peer mothers have made a world of difference. While the majority of women M2M tests are HIV positive. nearly all of them give birth to HIV negative babies. M2M currently employs over 1600 mothers in more than 700 clinics across much of sub-Saharan Africa.
For readers wanting to honour the mothers in their lives this Mother's Day please consider a gift to M2M or similar organizations. Or to Annie Lennox's SING campaign. See also Annie's video of a child she met recently in Africa.
NOTES:We didn't know it at the time but Annie was 'marooned' in London for the same reason we
were – the volcanic ash cloud. Her scheduled live appearance
on American Idol's – Idol Gives Back was video recorded. Click here to see it.
Annie also attended the Skoll World forum in Oxford the week before, not to speak but to learn. I admit I'm star struck. Despite her celebrity she, like all social entrepreneurs, is devoting her life to deal not just with the ravages of HIV/AIDS but to prevent their causes. She understands this is a complex issue that requires more than celebrity endorsement.
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