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Victoria Beckham dress sale to benefit African mothers with HIV

By Katie Nguyen

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British fashion designer and former pop star Victoria Beckham is giving away 600 pieces of clothing, including several evening dresses, to raise money and awareness for mothers living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.

Beckham's iconic, white Dolce and Gabbana dress worn for the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards is just one of the items to go under the hammer in aid of mothers2mothers (m2m), a charity that works to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies in nine countries including South Africa, Swaziland and Kenya.

Other pieces are from Beckham's days with the Spice Girls pop group, fashion shows, parties and red carpet appearances with husband and former England soccer captain David Beckham.

The money raised from the auction of Beckham's evening gowns, hats, shoes, bags, jewellery and costume pieces will be "transformational" for the organization that trains and employs mothers living with HIV to mentor other HIV-positive mothers in their community, m2m founder, Mitch Besser, said.

The women work alongside doctors and nurses in understaffed health centers as members of the healthcare team.

"We've reached 1.2 million mothers since we started, but with more resources, we can reach more mothers. With more reach we prevent more infections and we keep more mothers alive to take care of their kids," said Besser, an obstetrician and gynaecologist by training.

"The funding is absolutely transformational for an organization like ours," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With an annual budget of around $20 million, m2m receives up to two thirds of its funding from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - a program to combat AIDS started by former U.S. President George W. Bush.

THE OUTNET.COM, the online fashion outlet which will host the private online sale from Aug. 20-25, said Beckham chose to donate proceeds to m2m after visiting South Africa in February and meeting some of the mothers affected by HIV.

"After spending just a few days with these remarkable women and learning more about the charity from Mitch, and his lovely wife Annie Lennox, I wanted to do as much as I could," Beckham said in a statement.

"It really was a life-changing experience. I've never experienced anything like it."

Sub-Saharan Africa is still the region hardest hit by HIV, with 24.7 million HIV-positive people in 2013.

Women account for 58 percent of those living with HIV in the region, which is also home to 85 percent of pregnant women living with HIV, according to UNAIDS.

Nevertheless there have been great strides in reducing the number of children infected with HIV worldwide - from 580,000 in 2001 to 240,000 in 2013.

Yet stigma, under-funded and under-equipped healthcare systems and problems engaging men are some of the obstacles to ending the epidemic in Africa, Besser said.

(Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers underreported humanitarian, human rights, corruption and climate change issues. Visit www.trust.org)

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