Early this year, 53-year-old, English mother of three, Tov Bura, reportedly got pregnant for the sixth time. Rather than discuss it with her husband, Tov, who has been working for a transit center in Uganda that works with HIV positive pregnant women, took the responsibility on herself. Her story is now shared around the world as a groundbreaking moment in resistance to an epidemic that is literally tearing families apart. But with poverty still on the rise in Uganda, Tov knows that she cannot afford to lose any more children to preventable diseases. “I could have walked two hours to walk to the place and talked to my husband,” Tov told reporters. “But this place has been around for many years. They are used to dealing with this.”
In addition to the reluctance on the part of Tov’s husband to share responsibility for taking care of another baby, women who contract HIV in Uganda are faced with tough odds when it comes to access to a life-saving HIV vaccine. There are no official statistics available, but a 2010 study found that only 13 percent of women in Uganda who are pregnant at the time they contract HIV are correctly diagnosed. Despite the limited availability of HIV drugs, women are left with little choice but to bring their babies to a clinic. “These women also face an extremely difficult decision,” said Josephine Nakiyima a health education program manager at the Uganda Virus Research Institute. “Should they leave their babies with a family member who is not performing HIV testing, or should they risk the possibility of HIV passing from their to their baby?”
It is of the utmost importance that women take personal responsibility for their own sexual health and make informed choices around pregnancy. “If we were given the option to keep our babies, I don’t know how many of them will take it,” Tov said. “Every year there is one or two who will not take this choice,” Tov said. That is why the international AIDS charity, the Desmond Tutu HIV/AIDS Foundation, established the Shwea Asikonye project to address this inequity in the vaccine sector. According to the organization, there are currently no HIV vaccines available for women across all age groups.
Abigail Doolittle, the director of advocacy at the Shwea Asikonye project, said, “Imagine a young woman in Kenya or Ethiopia or America or the UK choosing to take the vaccine, and at the same time knowing that if she does it she will be giving a woman in Uganda who is on antiretroviral therapy the opportunity to be infected with HIV.” The Shwea Asikonye project is tackling this inequity by developing localized HIV vaccine guidance for healthcare workers and advocating for women in rural communities in Uganda.