FRIDAY BRIEFING | From fighting HIV/Aids denialism to securing vaccine: Why Glenda Gray is on a mission

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Friday Briefing

Glenda Gray: Why she is one of the most consequential figures in SA today

When South Africa awoke from the shock recently that the much-vaunted Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine could not be used, Glenda Gray had already begun looking for alternatives. And within days, Gray, a medical doctor, scientist and president of the SA Medical Research Council, delivered, securing 80 000 vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.

When the very first vaccine was administered in South Africa she was there, standing next to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, and after a mad rush to source enough of the vaccine from across the globe and transport them to vaccination centres across the country.

It was quite a remarkable turnaround for someone who, a couple of months before, was left out of a newly constituted ministerial advisory body because of her frank assessments of government's Covid-19 strategy.

The phased lockdown was "nonsensical and unscientific", she said bluntly last May, which drew Mkhize's ire. But colleagues and friends of Gray say her honesty is no surprise.

"She's the closest thing we have to Tony Fauci," is the opinion of Professor James MacIntyre. Professor Linda-Gail Bekker says it is "the mission" that drives her. And Dr Fareed Abdullah, a colleague and fellow HIV-campaigner, says South Africa "is lucky to have her".

Gray sat down in her Kenilworth home with investigative reporters Kyle Cowan and Azarrah Karrim, who have been at the forefront of News24's coverage of the pandemic, and explained why she is committed to science and to South Africa.

"I told everyone I'm sitting this pandemic out," she told Cowan and Karrim. Luckily for the rest of us, she didn't.

The fabulous artwork for this week's Friday Briefing was done, as always, by Rudi Louw.

Have a good weekend, and stay safe.

Pieter du Toit

Assistant Editor: In-depth news and investigations

The mission: How Glenda Gray became 'the closest thing South Africa has to Tony Fauci'

Professor Glenda Gray almost single-handedly secured 500 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for South African healthcare workers. A fearless advocate for doing what is right above all else, Gray explains why she stands on principle. Kyle Cowan and Azarrah Karrim report.

Intellectual property and Covid-19 medicines: Why a WTO waiver may not be enough

Enrico Bonadio and Dhanay M. Cadillo Chandler argue that a waiver to certain parts of the TRIP agreement might not work because it might not allow all developing countries to secure medicines and other anti-Covid technologies in a timely way.

Vaccine diplomacy: How some countries are using Covid-19 to enhance their soft power

The prospect of global health becoming a new arena for global power competition and rivalry should worry us all, writes Michael Jennings.

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