SA professor elected as member of prestigious academy

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim. Picture: Supplied

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim. Picture: Supplied

Published May 2, 2024


SOUTH African infectious diseases epidemiologist, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, has been elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Karim, co-founder and associate scientific director of CAPRISA - the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa - was one of 250 members elected in 2024.

Karim was recognised for her excellence and invited by the academy to uphold their mission of "engaging across disciplines and divides".

She said she was honoured to have been nominated by her peers, who acknowledged and recognised her contributions.

“It was a wonderful surprise to have been elected. The element of surprise was because an individual cannot apply to be a member, but has to be nominated and accepted. I did not know about the election until the announcement was made,” she said.

Karim added that joining a large group of well-established members of the academy was a privilege.

“It is an honour and privilege to join an academy of people who have made different contributions in arts and science. I am pleased to join a group that already has remarkable individuals who made immense contributions. To see myself among these giants is an honour,” Karim added.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 to help the nation face its challenges through shared purpose, knowledge, and ideas. The first members were elected in 1781.

David Oxtoby, president of the academy, said: “We honour these artists, scholars, scientists, and leaders in the public, non-profit, and private sectors for their accomplishments and for the curiosity, creativity, and courage required to reach new heights."

Oxtoby said the academy invited exceptional individuals to join in their work to address serious challenges and advance the common good.

Founded in 1780, the academy’s membership and work have changed greatly over the centuries, while remaining faithful to a charter founded on ideals that celebrate the life of the mind, the importance of knowledge, and the belief that the arts and sciences are “necessary to the interest, honor, dignity and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people”.

An induction ceremony for new members that will take place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in September 2024.

The new class joins an array of academy members elected before them, including Benjamin Franklin (elected 1781), Albert Einstein (1924) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1966).

Karim, who has over 300 peer reviewed publications; edited several books, contributed several book chapters including co-editing the 6th and 7th edition of the Oxford Textbook on Global Public Health, is a professor in Clinical Epidemiology at the Columbia University in New York and pro-vice chancellor for African Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She had played a central role in building the science base in southern Africa through the Columbia University - Southern African Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Programme - that has trained over 600 scientists in southern Africa.

Karim, the wife of South African public health physician, epidemiologist and virologist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, was also awarded South Africa's highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe (Bronze).

In 2016, she received the prestigious L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards for helping to combat HIV and improving the life of African women.

In 2014, Karim was named winner of the 2014 TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize from the World Academy of Sciences. She is the first woman to have received the $100 000 prize.