01 November 2017 Volume :5 Issue :58

US Lifetime Achievement Award for UKZN AIDS Researchers

US Lifetime Achievement Award for UKZN AIDS Researchers
At the awards ceremony in Baltimore from left: Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim and Dr Robert Gallo.

Leading South African AIDS researchers, UKZN’s husband and wife duo Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim, are the recipients of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the esteemed Institute for Human Virology (IHV) for their contributions to the global AIDS response.

The couple received a standing ovation at the awards ceremony which was presented to them at the 19th international meeting of the IHV last week in Baltimore in the United States by Dr Robert Gallo, who discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS and developed the first blood tests for HIV infection.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim is the Director of UKZN’s Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim is its Associate Scientific Director. They are both professors in the Department of Epidemiology at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York and are honorary academics at UKZN. They are renowned for their tireless and distinguished scientific contributions in HIV prevention and treatment research that span nearly three decades.

‘To me, both of these renowned individuals have made some of the greatest contributions in the history of HIV/AIDS in public health and epidemiology relevant to the prevention and care of infected people,’ said Gallo.  ‘I don’t know any person or persons who have done more to advance the proper care of people with HIV infection or the prevention of HIV infection among a population.’

Professor Salim Abdool Karim is a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist who is widely recognised for his ground-breaking scientific contributions in HIV prevention and treatment. He is co-inventor on patents which have been used in several HIV vaccine candidates and his clinical research on TB-HIV treatment has shaped international guidelines on the clinical management of co-infected patients. Abdool Karim is Chair of the UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel and WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on HIV and Hepatitis, a Foreign Associate Member of the US National Academy of Medicine and serves on the boards of Lancet-Global Health, Lancet-HIV and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim is an NRF A-Rated scientist and infectious diseases epidemiologist and was the Principal Investigator of the CAPRISA 004 trial. Her research focuses on understanding the evolving HIV epidemic in South Africa, factors influencing the acquisition of HIV infection in adolescent girls and sustainable strategies to introduce HAART in resource-constrained settings. She is the Vice-Chairperson of the Board of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and a member of the End AIDS Coalition (EAC). Abdool Karim is a member of the UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel and Scientific Advisory Board member of the US President’s Emergency Pan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Their scientific contributions have focused on trying to prevent HIV in women in Africa. They were the first to demonstrate that antiretrovirals can prevent sexual transmission of HIV in 2010, when they shared the results of the CAPRISA 004 tenofovir gel trial. The landmark CAPRISA 004 study was recognised by the journal Science as one of the Top 10 scientific breakthroughs in 2010. The Abdool Karims also discovered that tenofovir gel prevents genital herpes, the first drug shown to be effective in preventing this disease. Currently, they are involved in developing new innovative ways of preventing HIV in women.

Commenting on the global award for distinguished public service, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim said they ‘were both deeply appreciative of the recognition by the IHV, a centre of excellence in HIV research’.

Said Professor Salim Abdool Karim: ‘We accept the award not just on our own behalf but in recognition of the resilience and contributions of the thousands of South Africans who have been central, as participants in our research, to the ongoing effort to develop better and more effective HIV prevention and treatment strategies.’

UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, said the University was proud to congratulate both scientists.

‘UKZN is honoured to be associated with these eminent researchers who have contributed immensely to the world’s understanding of the pathogenesis, epidemiology and prevention of HIV.  Through ground-breaking studies such the CAPRISA 004 tenofovir gel trial, the Abdool Karims have established their status of being among the world’s foremost authorities in the field of HIV/AIDS research,’ said van Jaarsveld.

‘While the battle is far from over, it is encouraging to note that South Africa has made significant strides in its response to the epidemic. Pioneers such as the Abdool Karims and institutions like CAPRISA have contributed to the turnaround we are celebrating today.

‘While their work is not done for any personal gain or fame, we hope that the recognition the Abdool Karims continue to receive, both locally and internationally, will spur them on in their pursuit to generate new knowledge in this very important field. The Abdool Karims are still searching hard for new ways to prevent the transmission of HIV and we, therefore, have no doubt that they will continue making us proud as a country,’ said van Jaarsveld.

The Institute of Human Virology (IHV) is a leading US research centre that combines the disciplines of basic science, epidemiology and clinical research in a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune disorders - most notably HIV.

Words: Smita Maharaj

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