One of the most renowned HIV scientists in the world has died from coronavirus

Her death has been called a “huge blow” to the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

South African scientist Gita Ramjee has tragically passed away due to complications from the coronavirus.

The chief scientific officer of the Aurum Institute – a nonprofit Johannesburg-based organisation that focuses on HIV and tuberculosis research – Gita was renowned for expanding women’s access to HIV treatment and prevention.

On March 31, the HIV pioneer died after returning from a symposium in the UK. She was 64 years old.

David Mabuza, the Deputy President of South Africa, said the passing of Gita “comes as a huge blow to the entirety of the healthcare sector and the global fight against HIV/Aids” and called her a “champion in the fight against HIV”.

He said in a statement: “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.”

Professor Churchyard, head of Aurum, told the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani: “Gita was a vibrant person, a real fighter.

“If she sets her mind on something, nobody better stand in her way. That will be my lasting memory of her – how she fought with everything to advance access to healthcare for women in disadvantaged communities.”

Gita received several prestigious awards for her contribution to science. After co-chairing the Microbicide Conferences in 2006, 2008 and 2010, she was honoured with the conference’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

In 2018, she won the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership/European Union Outstanding African Female Scientist Award. Gita also held honorary professorships at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University Washington and the University of Cape Town.

A statement from the LSHTM sent their condolences to Gita’s family and friends “around the world” and hailed her as “an inspirational role model for young scientists including women scientists in South Africa and beyond.”

LSHTM director Peter Piot said he is “deeply saddened” to hear of her passing.

He added: “I have known Gita for many years, and it is hard to overstate her ground-breaking scientific contributions and unwavering commitment to HIV prevention, particularly for women and girls in Africa.”

Related: Play your part: don’t hook-up during COVID-19 lockdown.

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