The Roles of Expert Mothers Engaged in Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) Programs: A Commentary on the INSPIRE Studies in Malawi, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe

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Introduction:Several initiatives aiming to improve retention and adherence in Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programs include “expert mothers” (EMs) as a central tenet of their interventions. This article compares the role of EMs in 3 implementation research studies examining approaches for improving retention in care among mothers living with HIV.Methods:We compared and synthesized qualitative data and lessons learned from 3 studies (MoMent in Nigeria, PURE in Malawi, and EPAZ in Zimbabwe) with respect to the involvement of EMs in supporting PMTCT clients. The frame of reference for the comparison is the role that EMs play in PMTCT service delivery for individuals, at the health facility, within the health system, and in the community.Results:EMs' role was positively perceived by PMTCT clients and health care workers, as EMs provided an expanded range of services directly benefiting clients and enabling health care workers to share their workload. Common challenges included difficulties in reaching male partners and fear of stigma. The lack of structure and standardization in EM interventions in relation to eligibility criteria, training, certification, and remuneration were identified as important barriers to EMs' role development within existing health systems.Conclusions:The role of EMs within PMTCT programs continues to expand rapidly. There is a need for coordinated action to develop shared standards and principles commensurate with the new roles and additional demands placed on EMs to support PMTCT services, including EM certification, mentoring and supervision standards, standardized PMTCT-specific training curricula, and, where appropriate, agreed remuneration rates.

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