Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has hailed South African Indian-origin professors Salim Abdool Karim and wife Quarraisha for their contributions in the fight against HIV/Aids and COVID-19.
The scientist couple has refused numerous awards both locally and internationally, including national honours in South Africa, for their pioneering work in preventing the spread of HIV among young women through the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Gates said his charitable foundation was now using the couple’s experience to check the spread of Covid-19.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who heads the South African government’s advisory team on Covid-19, has served on the Gates Foundation Scientific Advisory Board for 10 years. He also chairs the WHO Scientific Committee on HIV.
“Drawing on their experiences from HIV and TB (tuberculosis), they are helping guide the Covid-19 response in South Africa and around the world,” Gates said.
The Microsoft founder said the motto at Caprisa has impressed him. The motto is ‘Each day that you come to work, you should be looking for how today is going to be better than yesterday.’ Salim said one in every fifth person infected with HIV in the world is South African and that statistic motivated him and his wife to take up the mantle against HIV.
“Very early on, we both realised that we could pioneer and find new ways to treat and prevent HIV. We’ve now been able to manufacture these broadly neutralising antibodies.
“We will be injecting it into young women to test whether it’s safe and then we want to see if it does prevent HIV. If it can, it will change the course of the HIV epidemic in Africa,” he said.
Quarraisha said she had learnt that epidemiology, a science, also has a social justice component to it.
“Women bear about four times more infection compared to men. Our work as scientists is to try to find technologies that women can use to prevent HIV infection, especially those women who are unable to negotiate the traditional safer sex practices,” she said.
“We’ve managed to reduce transmission, but there are still close to a million women dying of AIDS. That shouldn’t be happening,” said Salim, who in May this year was forced to take to social media to dismiss as fake news that he had received a grant of 944 million Rand in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Because I am an adviser to the Gates Foundation, I do not have grant funding from Gates. Please convey the truth to help stop this fake news,” the professor said.