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French ambassador bestows prestigious 2020 Christophe Mérieux Prize on Quarraisha Abdool Karim

UKZN infectious diseases epidemiologist and Pro-Vice Chancellor for African Health, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, was awarded the 2020 prestigious Christophe Mérieux Prize, in the field of infectious diseases in developing countries, in a special and momentous hybrid ceremony held at CAPRISA on Tuesday, 30 March, due to COVID-19.

His Excellency Aurélien Lechevallier, Ambassador of France to South Africa, on behalf of the Fondation Christophe et Rodolphe Mérieux-Institut de France and the French Academy of Sciences, bestowed the certificate and medallion to Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA, in recognition of her pioneering research work "resulting from the use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV infection in women".

The award presentation was preceded by citations from an eminent panel of speakers that included: Professor Pascale Cossart, the Permanent Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences; Mr Alain Mérieux, President of the Institut Mérieux Family Foundation; Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine and Chair of the CAPRISA Scientific advisory Board; and Professor Valerie Mizrahi, the 2013 recipient of the Christophe Merieux Award and UCT Emeritus Professor in TB biology.

In her citation, Cossart recognised Abdool Karim as only "the sixth woman scientist to receive the biggest prize of the French Academy of Sciences". In his citation, Mérieux, highlighted that the "fight against infectious diseases continues to be a worldwide problem" and this annual award from the Christophe and Rudolphe Merieux Family Foundation is to encourage research in addressing this challenge. Barré-Sinoussi in her citation highlighted that Abdool Karim is "one of the examples of successful women scientists in the world, with an immense international reputation in women’s health".

“I am very impressed by the achievements of CAPRISA and, in particular, of Quarraisha,” she said.

Mizrahi said what resonated with her was "Quarraisha’s selfless determination to build research capacity in southern Africa" and underscored the importance of "the several hundreds of scientists that she has trained through the Columbia University-Southern African Fogarty AIDS training Programme and the numerous young investigators she has lifted and inspired".

“It is a great honour for the HIV research in young women in Africa undertaken by the CAPRISA team to be recognised by this pre-eminent award from the Christophe Mérieux Foundation and the French Academy of Sciences,” said Abdool Karim. She paid tribute to the CAPRISA team of scientists and researchers, students and collaborators across the globe and research participants for their important and invaluable contributions to this research. She said it was important to use new scientific knowledge to impact policies and programming and to get to those who will benefit from this knowledge. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we have the "ability to pivot globally as rapidly as we were able to which comes from decades of investment in responding to other pandemics such as HIV, TB, Malaria and Ebola that remain ongoing challenges and global threats – but when we work together, we can achieve so much more".

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