Continuing our #WomenWhoWin series, we speak to Liako Serobanyane, who fights against maternal transmission of HIV in Lesotho with mothers2mothers
Liako Serobanyane, 32, is a community mentor mother in Lesotho for mothers2mothers. The charity works to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by training and employing HIV-positive women to become local health workers.
Having reached more than 2.3 million mothers, babies and families in over seven countries, mothers2mothers knows that a comprehensive approach to tackling HIV is necessary. As Liako explained: ‘We don’t just support HIV-positive women, but we also support those who are HIV-negative. We want them to stay HIV negative forever.’
As one of the nearly 3000 mentor mothers employed directly by mothers2mothers, Liako’s main role is to focus on maternal and infant health, on top of providing emotional support and education. In some cases, Liako added that women feel comfortable enough to ‘come to [our] houses, even after waking hours, just to ask for help or advice.’
When asked about how becoming a mentor mother has made her feel, Liako was clear that it had changed her own life for the better: ‘I didn’t realise that I was a good speaker like I am today, and I didn’t know that in my life I would be able to help this many women, or be a role model to HIV-positive women.
With an 18% increase in the number of new women and families enrolled in the mothers2mothers programme last year (compared to 2016), the work that Liako does is indispensable. We spoke to Liako about her role, the difficulties she faces, and how she switches off.
How did you find out that you were HIV positive?
‘[Ten years ago], when I was pregnant with my second child. In Lesotho, women do not talk about their pregnancy until it starts to show, so, I guess that’s why I only went to the clinic when I was 4 months pregnant. I was going for my antenatal clinic and I had to take the test, and that’s how I found out I was HIV positive.’
When did you get involved with mothers2mothers?
‘When I tested HIV positive, there was no one to talk to except for my family. At that time, we thought that someone who was HIV positive was going to die. Now people don’t believe me when I say, “I’m HIV-positive, too – you can do this!” I am determined to help other women going through what I’ve been through.’
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
‘The most difficult part is resistant clients. Whether that’s because they’re difficult to talk to, or because they’re not willing to take medication. If you haven’t disclosed your HIV status, it isn’t easy to take the medication because you have to hide and take it with food at the same time every day. Sundays are when I relax and unload everything: I watch soaps on TV, and go to church and sing in the choir.’
Is there a woman whose story has particularly stuck with you?
‘One story that sticks with me is of a woman and her baby who had been rejected by her husband. All they had was water. We supported them so they could eat, rather than have to take medication on an empty stomach. It was one of the most painful things to witness. But between the charity and the hospital staff, we pooled together to get her the care she needed.’