AIDS 2018 : “Imagine if all these women had discreet tools at their disposal which they could use without negotiating with anyone?”

VARG Member and IPM Board Member, Maureen Luba shared her thoughts on the future of HIV prevention as she delivered a vote of thanks during the recently concluded International AIDS Conference, in Amsterdam. As IPM’s work to continue to grow the basket of HIV prevention options, through its development and pioneering work on a monthly dapivirine ring that provides women with the first discreet, easy-to-use and long-acting HIV prevention option, the VARG recognizes the importance of not only advocating for an HIV vaccine but for a strengthened public health system, an equitable world where choice and agency are centred. Maureen’s testimony below demonstrates the reality that is possible when our advocacy is informed by passion, courage and a willingness to walk had in hand with communities that advocates work in. You can learn more about IPM’s work to bring this exciting option to women across the globe here.  

Vote of Thanks to partners, allies and stakeholders at22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands,, 26thJuly 2018. – Maureen Luba

One rainy early December morning five years ago I found myself out in the field meeting PLHIV support group members. I was working as the District Coordinator for an NGO in Malawi called the National Association for People Living with HIV. As we were in the midst of our discussions there was one woman who caught my eye, she was in her late 70s.

Being a young advocate with not much experience in the field I had many questions. First, I said to myself, if she is here as a support group member, she must be HIV positive,

But how did she get infected? At that age? She seemed too old to be sexually active!

Something else caught my attention, she was shivering and did so throughout the meeting. After the meeting I went to her and asked how she was doing and if everything was ok. She told me it was the effect of the medication she was on and, whenever she took it on an empty stomach, it made her shiver. I really wanted to understand her story and I offered her a lift back home.

On the journey, she shared with me how she contracted HIV. Her late husband worked as night watchman in the city about 40km away from her home. He often drank and slept with different women.

Her friends would tell her about his behavior but there was nothing she could do. Each time she tried to confront him, he would threaten to kick her out of the house, she did not have any other option so her and her children had to stay.

This is not a fairy tale. These are realities of the lives of many women. There are so many women today including my own friends who are in living in similar conditions.

One of them, in my age range, told me that she thought her husband was having an affair. He was sleeping out and coming home very late.

She said she felt at risk and told me that she was not always successful at using protection. He questioned her faithfulness when she suggested condom use and reminded her that they were trying to have a baby as they had been married for four years and the family pressure was on.

My sister too got infected with HIV through an abusive marriage. She knew her husband was sleeping around, she knew she was at risk, but couldn’t do anything about it. Imagine if all these women had discreet tools at disposal which they could use without negotiating with anyone?

These are just some of the stories that have inspired me to become the advocate I am today

I dream and hope for a world where women have control over their sexual health, I dream and hope for a world where women have access to discreet tools which they can use without negotiating with their partners.

Women are anxiously waiting for this ring, we are waiting for this ring. The ring is more than just a tool, more than just an option to go into a programing basket.

It represents agency, it represents our potential to live our lives to the fullest, free from violence, and it represents, for many of us, survival.

All of you in this room tonight have given of yourself, whether it is time, resources, strategy, scientific or community mobilisation expertise, I want you to know that we see you, we recognize you, we thank you and we hold hands with you, together on this journey that has to continue until every single women, girl, boy and man can truly say they have agency over their bodies, their live and their destinies.

Thank you