100 World Class South Africans: Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim

2013-06-06 12:00

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Virus fighters

This husband-and-wife team share a passion, and it’s not just personal: they want to reduce the spread of the HI virus.

The Abdool Karims are professors of epidemiology at Columbia University in the US and head up the Aids research centre Caprisa in SA.

Their greatest breakthrough has been the first-ever antiretroviral microbicide gel, which will give women the power to prevent HIV and herpes infection.

It was eighth time lucky – the seven trials before had not worked, and they had been pressured to abandon their research.

Reading between the lines is illuminating – for the gel trials, the majority of the women were very young as most over 25 were already infected.

In March 2012 they received the top accolade for Aids research in the world, the N’Galy-Mann Award, and their microbicide was named one of the Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010 by the journal Science.

They are advisors to UNAids, the World Health Organisation, Gates Foundation and other international bodies.

In The Lancet in 2011, Salim recalled the moment they announced the results of their research at the International Aids Conference in Vienna: ‘There was a stunned silence and then a roar. I saw people crying. It was so emotional because it had been so long in coming.’

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