Clemensia Nakabiito, MBChB, Mmed, is the HPTN 084 investigator of record at the Makerere University Johns Hopkins University Research Collaboration (MUJHU) in Kampala, Uganda. She is an internationally-recognized practicing obstetrician/gynecologist and clinical researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in research involving pregnant and non-pregnant women, women living with HIV and those who are not, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
Dr. Nakabiito is involved in training, clinical management and research at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Mulago National Referral Hospital and MUJHU. She is the leader of the Women’s Health Domain at MUJHU where she is mentoring young investigators to follow in her footsteps in HIV prevention research.
How did you first get involved with the HPTN?
I first got involved with the HPTN when MUJHU implemented HPTN 027 back in 2006 during the struggle to find a vaccine for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). There were many lessons learned including whether the vaccine was safe in newborn children. We then participated in HPTN 046 for PMTCT from 2008 to 2010.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do in support of the HPTN?
First and foremost is getting the community to understand that our research continues to search for strategies designed to help reduce HIV incidence and meet women’s varying needs as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is not enough to cover everyone who needs HIV prevention. Another challenge is translating evidence-based findings into policy and program implementation.
What do you think will change about HIV prevention over the next five years?
There is great hope concerning HIV prevention; the tool kit has expanded, and over the next five years I believe it will be even bigger with more choices. And some research studies are now targeting pregnant women, young women and adolescents so that no woman is left out, ensuring the whole spectrum of a woman’s life cycle is covered. I anticipate greater availability of PrEP with the currently-available Truvada® and the monthly dapivirine vaginal ring could be available by 2020. I am also very hopeful injectable cabotegravir will be found to be effective by HPTN 083 and HPTN 084.
What do you wish other people knew about your work?
My greatest passion is to see an HIV prevention tool kit with many options that people, especially women, can choose from. As an obstetrician I have birthed many children and my greatest pain was seeing infants living with HIV. It was also challenging to see HIV-negative women testing positive at their subsequent pregnancies – I had to roll up my sleeves and join the call for the prevention of new HIV infections among women. If the HPTN 084 trial is successful, then my smile shall be broader than ever before because we shall be closer to an HIV-free generation. It warms my heart to see there are now many options for women that are being investigated.
What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?
I was born in Rakai District in Uganda, one of the districts greatly ravaged by HIV. My career as an obstetrician and a researcher in HIV prevention was redirected having seen families and communities wiped out by the disease. I am also a grandmother with 11 grandchildren. Nurturing my five children into adults, it has been amazing to watch my own generation grow. I have also been a lecturer and taught so many students whom I consider my protégés. Through my prevention research at MUJHU, I have mentored some young investigators to become the next generation of HIV prevention scientists. It is my great desire to see that an HIV-free generation comes forth no matter what it takes.
What do you do when you aren't working?
I am an ardent farmer. On my farm, which is within my home in Konge, Kampala, I keep domestic animals, matooke (plantains) and other food crops. We usually have parties every three months. I invite my children and grandchildren who call me “Jajja Konge” (grandmother in Konge) and we celebrate all birthdays that fall within that quarter. Everyone feels special, loved and well-recognized. These interactions keep me stress-free and feeling younger because there is a lot of fun with the little ones!