Dr. Mitch Besser is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. As an obstetrician and gynecologist, his 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 created mothers2mothers, in which mothers living with HIV are employed to work alongside doctors and nurses in understaffed health centers, educating and supporting pregnant women and new mothers with HIV. These Mentor Mothers, as they are called, reduce the workload of doctors and nurses and increase the effectiveness of interventions that protect babies from HIV infection and keep mothers healthy and alive.
m2m has reached more than 1.2 million HIV-positive mothers in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and catalysed affiliated Mentor Mother programmes in two additional countries. Founded in South Africa in 2001, m2m is a partner in the United Nations’ Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive.
Dr. Besser is currently piloting AgeWell, a program using m2m’s peer-to-peer approach in providing service to an elderly population. AgeWell employs and trains able senior citizens to promote the well-being and health of other, less able seniors. The progam was launched in South Africa in 2014. A U.S. program will launch in 2015. 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.