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Prof Karim gets doctorate

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World renowned Kwazulu Natal-based professor Prof. Salim Abdool Karim was awarded with an honorary doctorate in medicine by the University of Cape Town (UCT) on Thursday. Karim was honoured for his ground-breaking research over the last 30 years, in the fight against HIV. He was conferred alongside theoretical physicist Dr Bernard Lewis Fanaroff, economics graduate Dr William Carmichael.

Karim is credited for his discovery of a microbicide that has significantly helped with the prevention of HIV and genital herpes. His study showed the first real significant indication of an antiretroviral drug, which could prevent the transmission of the HIV virus.

“His work epitomises the momentous contribution that innovative multidisciplinary science and medical technology can make to disease prevention, treatment and global health,” read a statement on the UCT website.

Speaking to VOC News shortly after the ceremony, Karim said he was extremely humbled to receive the honorary degree and thanked UCT for the recognition of 30 years of hard work. However, he stressed there was still a long way to go in the fight against HIV.

“As we look at the challenges we face in the HIV epidemic, we need scientific solutions to this challenge, and I have devoted much of my career to developing new technologies, focusing specifically on preventing and treating HIV,” he explained.

Karim’s focuses on two broad areas: namely HIV prevention in the form of chemicals to prevent woman from acquiring the virus, as well as the search and development of a vaccine to prevent the spread of the infection. His research also has a strong focus on the treatment of patients who had both HIV and TB.

“If you look at any patient around the world who suffers from TB and HIV, they are probably being treated based on our research findings. So I think we have had quite a substantial global impact with our research.

As we look forward to the future, I think the bulk of what our new research is going to be, is going to focus on prevention, and helping those who have reached the last stages of HIV,” he said.

Karim is the head of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) consortium. One of Caprisa’s other major discoveries is that of a group of woman in Kwazulu-Natal, with strong antibodies able to kill the HIV virus. Karim said much of the institute’s focus would now be on these women, with one in particular displaying especially strong antibodies that they were looking to replicate in the laboratory.  

“What we did was clone her B cells that make these antibodies. In cloning these cells, we’ve been able to get them to make the same antibodies for us in a test tube. The importance is that we can now replicate these antibodies and test them,” he said.

He said some of the basic tools were now there in the fight against HIV and the major challenge now was to roll them out to those most in need of them, and those most at risk of acquiring the virus. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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