UNAIDS NEW AMBASSADOR DETERMINED TO EDUCATE AFRICA
Written by: Shanice Pillay
UNAIDS has taken on a new AIDS Adolescent Ambassador, Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim, a well-renowned researcher, has been making contributions to the study of AIDS and how it is spread among adolescents.
“I’ve been appointed by UNAIDS as a special ambassador for adolescents and HIV,” said Abdool Karim. “This role recognises that in Africa, particularly southern Africa, one of the remaining challenges that we have in terms of controlling this epidemic is preventing infection in adolescent girls and young woman. But if you look across the world, if you look at where new infections are taking place it primarily occurs in young people between the ages of 15 – 24 years.”
UNAIDS is leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. It provides the strategic direction, advocacy, coordination and technical support needed to catalyse and connect leadership from governments, the private sector and communities to deliver life-saving HIV services. Without UNAIDS, there would be no strategic vision for the AIDS response.
Abdool Karim has been doing research over the past 30 years to try and understand whose been infecting young women, why they have such high rates of infections and what is it that they can do to prevent the infections through their innovative testing of products.
She added that this should be an encouragement to young people.
“This opportunity also includes young women and men; it is also about encouraging young people to pursuing careers in science to tackle the many challenges that faces humanity,” she said.
“For me it is a wonderful opportunity to bring together several decades of being a scientist working in this area and contributing to more ideas in science as we move forward,” she added.
Her work started when she was as young as 20, which easily got recognised internationally.
“One of my first surveys was done when I was in my twenties and it was a population survey. At the time the epidemic was just evolving in the general population and we had very little data, except from the blood bank donors in terms of how HIV was coming into the general population. Because the population being surveyed included men and women, girls and boys all the way to their late seventies, enabled me to differentiate by sex and age who was getting infected when and where. The striking variation was that young women were infected by HIV 5-7 years before their male peers,” she said.
As an infectious disease epidemiologist, her main research interests are in understanding the evolving HIV epidemic in South Africa, including the factors influencing the acquisition of HIV by adolescent girls, and sustainable strategies to introduce antiretroviral therapy in resource-constrained settings.
She holds professorships in clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University in the United States of America, and in public health at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
She is also a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, both in the United States. Since 1998, she has 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, which has trained more than 600 scientists in southern Africa.
Her aim is to bring awareness about the disease and educate all parts of Africa and the world on how to stop the spread of HIV.
*Caption: UNAIDS Adolescent Ambassador Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim.