Gita Ramjee, a South African scientist renowned for her HIV prevention solutions for women, dies from COVID-19

South Africa mourns a great mind

Woman african doctor holding red ribbon on her palms. AIDS awareness symbol. Heart desease awareness symbol

World-renowned HIV scientist Gita Ramjee has died of COVID-19-related complications. RIP to one of South Africa’s great minds. Her work focused, particularly on women.

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a South African scientist renowned for her work to expand women’s access to HIV treatment and prevention

South Africa mourns a great mind

Here in SA, we have the largest number of people living with HIV in the world. And Gita Ramjee was one of the brilliant minds fighting this fight. On Tuesday, she died in a hospital near Durban, BBC reports. Since then, tributes have been pouring in for this respected scientist.

‘She dedicated many years of her life to finding HIV prevention solutions for women,’ said her colleague and friend, Gavin Churchyard.

Prof. Gita Ramjee was a chief scientific officer at the Aurum Institute. As an HIV researcher, her work was critical for many South Africans.

‘Gita was a vibrant person, a real fighter. If she sets her mind on something, nobody better stand in her way,’ Churchyard added. ‘That will be my lasting memory of her – how she fought with everything to advance access to healthcare for women in disadvantaged communities.’

‘In her, we have indeed lost a champion in the fight against the HIV epidemic, ironically at the hands of this global pandemic,’ said Deputy President David Mabuza.

‘In her honour, we should heed the call to flatten the curve by strengthening our responses to this global pandemic as well as continue the fight to achieve zero new HIV infections.’

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Some of her accomplishments

Respected across her field, Professor Gita Ramjee was a vaccine scientist and an internationally recognised virologist. At 64, she had a tremendous career devoted to helping vulnerable South African women.

She held an honorary professorship at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Washington and UCT. Also, she received the Outstanding Female Scientist Award by the European Development Clinical Trials Partnerships in 2018.

This is what she had to say about the award:

‘I was absolutely thrilled by this award, as it recognises decades of my commitment to clinical research activities in HIV prevention. What makes it more rewarding is that I now stand among the female giants.’

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Her advice for younger women

Lastly, here’s a word of advice for younger women in science, from Prof Gita Ramjee: ‘Love of the job, passion, drive and tenacity are critical traits to have for scientific excellence.’

Of course, her work will live on. And now is the time to follow her example. Her colleague Churchyard urges us not to give up, as Gita Ramjee would want us to carry on fighting:

‘As an unrelenting fighter, unrelenting in her fight against HIV, against tuberculosis and now Covid-19. The last thing she would want us to do is to give up. We won’t give up, we must keep fighting and working to find solutions.’

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