Born in 1967, Desai became a nurse, an occupational therapist and a formidable activist focusing on worker justice in the Struggle. From her base in the Unity Movement and later the International Labour Research and Information Group and the United Democratic Front, she revolutionised what it meant to be a health-care worker.
In 1995, in Macassar, a 15 000 ton, sulphur dioxide stockpile of the African Explosives and Chemical Industries plant caught fire, releasing harmful respiratory-toxic gas. Two people died as a result and many others experienced respiratory problems. Desai fought for their justice and compensation. Two years later, she managed a multi-million-rand fund for successful claimants in a lawsuit against asbestos companies by asbestosis-affected workers.
Desai went on to do an MA in public health at UCT and served as the City of Cape Town’s clinic manager. She was a founding member and branch secretary of the ANC’s Woodstock branch.
She was also a committed marathon runner and mountaineer, having summited Mount Kilimanjaro, among other peaks, and reached Everest base camp.