Glenda Gray

MAKHANDA: “Only a vaccine can end the control of the HIV epidemic”. 

These were the words of Professor Glenda Gray, who is at the forefront of an HIV vaccine trial network with 5400 participants, and is recognised globally as a leader in HIV research focused on mother-to-child transmission – as she was bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate of Law, by Rhodes University, Makhanda (Grahamstown). 

Gray is the first female president of the Medical Research Council, co-founder of the internationally recognised Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto, a member of the global network striving to create an HIV vaccine, and a member of the World Health Organisation Aids Action Committee. 

She is currently a Professor in Paediatrics at Wits University. She said: “This honorary doctorate is truly a wonderful gesture and I am deeply honoured, and I thank you so much for this tribute. This university has a lot to be proud of. It is truly a jewel of South Africa and I am very honoured to be here. 

“Why I am here, in the middle of a law graduation, is because there is a natural history and a natural synergy between law and medicine. This moment is doubly special as law has played an integral part in asserting the right to health in our country. “This has been emphasised in the role that law played in forcing the government to provide antiretroviral treatment to pregnant HIV-infected women, to prevent them from transmitting HIV to their babies.” 

Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said they were conferring these honorary degrees on eminent individuals in “recognition and celebration of their extraordinary lifetime achievements and contributions in a field of knowledge or scholarship, in public service or in artistic creation”. 

Gray said the reason there was no HIV vaccine was because it took a long time to understand pathogens and how to protect against them. 

“We have many hurdles in trying to find an HIV vaccine… we do not know which immune response will provide protection, we have never before attempted to provide a vaccine against a retrovirus like HIV.”