SA researcher wins top French science prize for HIV research

One of the leading South African HIV researchers, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, has been awarded the Christophe Merieux Prize – France’s top science prize valued at €500 000.

The big win is in recognition of her work at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) where she is also Co-Founder and Associate Scientific Director. CAPRISA is a close associate-organisation of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and hosts one of its Extramural Research Units, the HIV-TB Pathogenesis and Treatment Research Unit.

The Institut de France, which runs the prize, praised her work tracing “the cycle of transmission” of the virus, with “young women generally getting it from men 10 years their senior”. She was also hailed for her work on biomedical interventions and how to treat people who have tuberculosis and are also HIV positive. Professor Abdool Karim is best known for a study that found that a gel of the anti-retroviral drug tenofovir was effective in reducing the risk of women catching HIV and genital herpes during sex.

In response to the award, she said it is a great honour for the research undertaken by the CAPRISA team to be recognized by the Christophe Meriuex Foundation. “Past recipients of this fairly recently established award are giants in their field and it is a privilege to follow in their footsteps. With this award, also comes an opportunity to continue advancing the research being done at CAPRISA expanding HIV prevention options for young women” - Abdool Karim said.

Added to her countless accolades, including the country’s s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe as well as a prestigious L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science award, Abdool Karim has previously won the SAMRC Scientific Merit Award: Gold Medal. This is awarded to researchers who have made substantial and influential contributions that have impacted on health especially in the developing world. She was also Vice Chairperson for the SAMRC’s Board for the period 2016 to 2019.

SAMRC’s President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray who also has a long history on HIV / Aids research relating to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, congratulated Abdool Karim. This is a great honour for South Africa, for the scientific community and for the SAMRC, for one of our own to receive this Award. Your research has been monumental in moving pre-exposure prophylaxis forward, and for spearheading the creation of female owned prevention technologies.

The award was due to be presented in Paris next week, but the ceremony was cancelled because of the coronavirus.