Module 4: Peer Education

Peer education is an effective means of disseminating health information throughout the community. Individuals act as messengers, spreading acquired information and practices to children, friends, and other community members. Several key programs have been developed to address issues about HIV, including peer education. Medley et al. conducted a systematic review of peer education interventions in developing countries over a period of 16 years. Their findings show that peer education interventions were significantly associated with increased HIV knowledge, reduced equipment sharing among injection drug users, and increased condom use. Peer-to-peer interventions select individuals who share demographic characteristics, and the programs train them to increase awareness, impart knowledge, and encourage behavior change among members of that same group. Peer education can be delivered formally in structured settings, such as in the classroom, or in informal settings, such as through daily interactions. Peer education programs are based on the idea that peers have a strong influence on each other's behavior. Also, peer educators are thought to have access to vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, and there is an immediate level of trust and comfort with peers. Thus, peer education programs can be empowering to both the peer and the educator. The findings from Medley et al. provide evidence that peer education programs are effective at improving knowledge and behavioral outcomes.(1)

Case Study: mothers2mothers

Mothers2mothers (m2m) is organization that facilitates peer-to-peer education by offering an effective, sustainable peer education model that provides education and support for pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV/AIDS. A key obstacle in preventing mother-to-child transmission in Africa has been a lack of outreach, education, and support for HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers. Thus, m2m acts as an educational and psychosocial mentoring and support organization, by training and employing HIV-positive mothers who have also completed the program. These mothers serve as mentors, providing peer education and psychological support to HIV-positive women who are pregnant or new mothers. This mentorship program empowers these mothers to access life-saving treatment for their children and for themselves. Mothers2mothers services include:

  1. Regular support groups
  2. Formal and informal individual counseling
  3. Help with issues of stigma and disclosure to family and friends
  4. Comprehensive education sessions about HIV/AIDS
  5. Daily gatherings for nutritious lunches and nutrition education(2)

Intervention in Context

Peer education should be considered as an “intervention-in-context”, where there are certain social conditions that enable a program to be successful. A comparison of two HIV prevention programs run by sex workers in India and South Africa, for example, helped to identify key factors in each projects’ successes and failures. The project in India was successful because of a stable and supportive social, material, and political context, combined with the provision of resources to the workers. From these results, it was found that there is a need for greater community participation in HIV prevention efforts, such as peer education. It is most important to address the social factors that can disempower the community, involve community members actively in project design, and devise strategies for empowerment.(3)

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Footnotes

(1) Population Council. (2000) Peer Education and HIV/AIDS: Past Experience, Future Directions. Accessed on: 13 August 2010. P.(1999).

(2) “Mothers2mothers.” http://www.m2m.org/ Accessed 13 August 2010.

(3) Cornish, F., and C. Campbell. 2009. The social conditions for successful peer education: A comparison of two HIV prevention programs run by sex workers in India and South Africa. American Journal of Psychology 44: 123 – 35.