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Eminent scientist recognised for his research in breastfeeding

Professor Hoosen "Jerry" Coovadia is Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Emeritus Victor Daitz Professor of HIV/AIDS Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). He features on the list of the top researchers on breastfeeding compiled by Expertscape, a leading healthcare information Web site that lists medical experts, ranked according to their published scientific articles.

Coovadia, who is ranked 10th on the list of the world's top experts on breastfeeding, has had an illustrious medical career. He led the ground-breaking study on Nevirapine, an antiretroviral drug used in the treatment and prevention of HIV. The study showed that Nevirapine was safe and effective when given to babies as a syrup to prevent them from acquiring HIV infection from their HIV-infected mothers through breastfeeding.

Coovadia is president of the South African Medical Association, and has a wealth of medical research experience in child health, especially breastfeeding, spanning several decades. "It has been known for many, many years, probably thousands of years, that breastfeeding is the best food for babies," he says.

"Breastmilk has multiple benefits for infants, their mothers, their families and for society as a whole. These benefits range from a positive impact on allergies (such as wheezing, eczema, etc) to long-term intellectual and mental health."

Coovadia is widely recognised for his contribution to the fight for social justice in health. He has played a significant role in shaping SA's health policies and served as a commissioner for the presidency's National Planning Commission.

Known for his bold and fearless stance on human rights, Coovadia fought against the oppressive laws of apartheid. He played a prominent role in fighting for a democratic SA as well as for equitable healthcare for all South Africans.

In 1999, President Nelson Mandela presented Coovadia with the Order of the Star of South Africa for his contributions to democracy and health. In 2013, he received the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

During his distinguished medical career, Coovadia received numerous awards, including the President's Award from the South African Medical Research Council and the Lifetime Achievement award from the National Research Foundation.

Coovadia refers to a recommendation by the World Health Organisation that newborn babies be fed exclusively on breastmilk until six months of age, adding: "Breastfeeding can be for two years, depending on the circumstances of the mother. It can continue for as long as the mother desires, but in modern societies with many women seeking employment, this is not always possible. However, places of employment should provide all the assistance available to enable mothers to breastfeed."

In 1990, Coovadia became head of Paediatrics and Child Health at the former University of Natal, a post he held until 2000. He was then appointed Victor Daitz Professor in HIV/AIDS Research at the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute at the university's Nelson Mandela School of Medicine. He is currently the director of MatCH Health Systems (Maternal, Adolescent and Child Health), a division of the Wits Health Consortium.