UKZN Alumna Passes on Following COVID-19 Related Complications
The University of KwaZulu-Natal joined the research fraternity and fellow South Africans in mourning the loss of UKZN world-renowned HIV scientist and researcher, Professor Gita Ramjee.
Ramjee - a UKZN alumna - served as Director of the HIV Prevention Unit of the South African Medical Research Council (MRC). She passed away in hospital following health complications related to COVID-19. She had recently returned to South Africa following a trip to the United Kingdom.
Ramjee, who is acknowledged for her ground-breaking research and development in the field of HIV prevention, recently received global recognition for her tireless efforts and lifetime of contribution relating to HIV prevention amongst women. She was awarded the “Outstanding Female Scientist” Award by the European Development Clinical Trials Partnerships (EDCTP).
According to the Medical Research Council (MRC), Ramjee’s KZN-based team hosts five of 20 HIV Vaccine Trial Network sites across the country as a part of a global scientific journey to find an effective HIV vaccine. Her team is also testing a ‘novel long acting injectable for the prevention of HIV’ in three communities across the greater Durban area.
A highly respected scholar and esteemed academic, she obtained her Science degree at the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom and her master’s and PhD degrees through the Department of Paediatrics at UKZN. She was also an Honorary Professor at the University of Tamil Nadu, India, and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, paid tribute to ‘a pioneer in the field of HIV prevention among high risk populations.’ Poku said her devotion and contribution to the field of HIV prevention is known globally.
‘On behalf of the University, we are saddened by the tragic loss of such a greatly respected scholar and esteemed academic. May her soul rest in peace and may her loved ones find healing during this difficult time,’ he said.
Former MRC President, Dr Anthony Mbewu, said: ‘Like many throughout the country, we are shocked and devastated to hear of the tragic passing of Gita. She died of a terrible virus that has caused misery and grief around the world; yet she herself fought tirelessly against another virus (HIV) that has killed millions in South Africa and overseas.’
Social media was flooded with messages of condolences as South Africans came to terms with losing a researcher and humanitarian of her calibre.
Her sister, Ms Asmita Parashar tweeted: ‘The most heartbreaking thing when a friend or relative is hospitalised with #COVID-19, is that they are completely alone till the end. No one to visit, take care, give them a hug or hold their hand in their hour of need. That is what is most tragic. It’s the cruelest disease… I am absolutely and completely heartbroken.’
‘Absolutely overwhelmed with the beautiful messages of love and support which continue to pour in from around world for my sister, Prof Gita Ramjee. Knowing how much she was loved and admired has been a real comfort at this very difficult time. Thank you!! #GitaRamjee,’ said Parashar.
The Aurum Institute, a leading African health impact organisation, said it was deeply saddened by the death of its Chief Scientific Officer who was ‘world renowned for her tireless work to find HIV prevention solutions for women.’ Aurum’s Group CEO Gavin Churchyard, described her as ‘a bold and compassionate leader in the response to HIV.’
Former SA Public Protector, Professor Thuli Madonsela said: ‘What a loss at a time like this. Heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Prof Gita Ramjee who dedicated her life to turning the tide against HIV and AIDS. Now #Corona #COVID19 has taken her away… RIP Gita Ramjee.’
UKZN alumnus and Mandela Rhodes scholar, Mr Suntosh Pillay, tweeted: ‘COVID-19 has robbed South Africa of a towering HIV researcher and globally renowned scholar.’
The University mourns the loss of one of its own as the country works tirelessly to combat the pandemic currently affecting the world.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer