Vuyiseka Dubula was an impoverished, 22-year-old Black woman living in a Cape Town township when she was diagnosed with HIV in 2001. She thought it was the end of her young life, as Dubula couldn’t afford the expensive HIV treatments that were available at the time. She was the was sole breadwinner for her sick mother and the eight children in their home.
Dubula was so depressed by the news that she lay in her bed for two months. Eventually, she pulled herself up and stopped by a Doctors Without Borders clinic where they were treating South Africans with the virus using antiretrovirals. Dubula didn’t get treatment there but a counselor referred her to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
“That day changed my life,” Dubula in an interview with the Toronto Star. “From that day on, I dedicated my life to this.”
TAC was created by HIV-positive activists in South Africa to advocate for treatment access through protest, litigation and public shaming. TAC is known as the leading organization fighting HIV in the continent of Africa, and they’ve been compared to civil rights activists from 1960s America.
After only four months of volunteering for TAC, Dubula opened up an office at her home to teach other people diagnosed with HIV on how the virus spreads, its side effects and treatment options. Her mission was to empower those diagnosed with HIV to then challenge their doctors and to pull more information for their health’s sake.
Simultaneously, President Thabo Mbeki was rejecting the link between HIV and AIDS on public record. He also argued that drugs used for treating HIV were toxic and suggested the use of multivitamins instead. TAC later won a lawsuit against the government for endangering children to get infected.
TAC has continued to use public shaming and lawsuits to push pharmaceutical companies into offering drugs at lower costs for patients. During one project, TAC brought thousands of tablets back from Thailand where HIV medication is 15 times cheaper, prompting pharmaceutical companies to give drug donations in South Africa.
TAC has 182 branches and 8,000 members, but the organization is now facing a funding crisis. Donors have been pulling their funds out of causes in South Africa and the organization needs two million raised by March to stay operating.
Three million South Africans still need treatment; some already have become immune to the first set of antiretroviral drugs. Other more advanced forms of HIV treatments are more expensive, thereby setting another barrier for patients to get the drugs they need. The HIV/AIDS issue is also indicative of gender inequality, as women between the ages of 15 and 24 are eight times more likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts.
In 2004, Dubula began taking her own medication, cut off her hair and started going to college to celebrate her fight against her disease. She was the first woman to go to college in her family. Dubula later went on to build a family of her own with her partner and their two healthy children (none of them have HIV). She is also now the secretary general of TAC.
“I reclaimed me from HIV,” Dubula said. “I grabbed what little bit was left by the tail.”
Today, Dubula lives in Toronto with her family. She has expanded her work to speaking internationally about AIDS and the progress that still needs to be made to address the virus within South Africa’s government health program.
#TeamBeautiful is beyond impressed with Dubula’s work and we can’t wait to see what this powerhouse does next.
[SOURCE: Toronto Star]