Professor Qurraisha Abdool Karim.PHOTO:RAJESH JANTILAL

Durban - Renowned Durban scientist Dr Quarraisha Abdool Karim was named winner of the 2014 TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize on Sunday for her research into medical and social strategies against HIV and Aids.

The award, one of the most prestigious given to scientists from the developing world, was announced at a special ceremony during the annual general meeting of The World Academy of Sciences (Twas) in Muscat in the Middle East on Sunday morning.

Karim’s work focuses on a topical anti-HIV gel that appears to dramatically reduce HIV infection, while giving women direct, effective control over their health.

The annual prize includes an award of $100 000 (R1 094 460) provided by Lenovo, the consumer, commercial, and enterprise technology company.

“We have a great admiration and respect for the work of Dr Abdool Karim,” said company president Bai Chunli.

“She has an exemplary record of high-impact science, and there is a deep humanity to her work. Just as important, she has helped to train hundreds of young African scientists who are expanding the research into HIV and tuberculosis.

“She really is a model scientist and a tremendous inspiration to colleagues across the world.”

Karim said she was humbled by the award.

“South Africa is an important and key population in terms of Aids research. With our contributions to this field, I think it adds an advantage to have this kind of acclamation. I feel very privileged and honoured to be the recipient of this award,” she said.

Karim’s most celebrated work is a finding that demonstrates the effectiveness of the tenofovir gel, a substance that women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection.

“Aids brought together two separate things for me. I saw a convergence between advocacy work and science. Women felt powerless in negotiating their partners’ monogamy,” she said.

“There were women saying, ‘You know, I can be faithful, I can be monogamous, but at the end of the day, what my partner does is putting me at risk. And my partner refuses to wear a condom. So we need something for ourselves so I can exercise my right to be uninfected’.”

Before tenofovir gel can be licensed, manufactured in South Africa and distributed locally, it must pass a second trial confirming Karim’s results. That study is under way and is expected to finish in the first half of next year.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a scientist with many awards for his work, said he and his children were thrilled by his wife’s achievement.

“I just spoke to our two daughters and son and they are ecstatic about Quarraisha’s prize. This is a well-deserved reward for her contributions, especially for her contributions to the cause of women and helping them prevent HIV infection.”

Among the many positions he occupies, Professor Karim is a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist who is widely recognised for his research contributions in HIV prevention and treatment.

He is also a professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University; a pro vice-chancellor (research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa and also president of the South African Medical Research Council.

He said his wife was now working on a study in a rural community in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands trying to understand how HIV was spreading in young women and schoolgirls.

“She is using genetic sequencing of HIV from each person getting infected to understand the linkages and the potential sources of the virus.”