Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has expressed concern over the increase in local transmission of the coronavirus. The number of cases in South Africa has increased by 27 to 1 380 – with Gauteng still registering the most cases at 645.

Five deaths have been registered.

Mkhize was speaking in Sandringham, Johannesburg, while inspecting mobile coronavirus testing units.

The National Health Laboratory has procured 60 mobile sampling and testing units to be sent to district municipalities and metros.

Mkhize says these forms part of the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the government is intensifying efforts to screen and test in densely populated areas.

In the video below, Mkhize addresses the media on Day 6 of the Lockdown:

Homage to Prof Gita Ramjee

Minister Mkhize has also sent his condolences to the Ramjee family and the medical fraternity on the passing of scientist, Gita Ramjee, who died apparently of COVID-19 complications.

Ramjee had recently returned home from a trip to London and was admitted with pneumonia to a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. Her research, which focused on ways to prevent HIV transmissions in women in South Africa, earned her recognition around the world.

Mkhize says Ramjee will be missed.

The Aurum Institute shared the news of Ramjee’s death in a Twitter post on Tuesday night. Immediately after the news broke, members of the scientific community and local activists and personalities shared their tributes to the remarkable researcher on Twitter.

Professor Ramjee grew up in Uganda. She later moved to India where she attended high school for several years. She then relocated to the north-east of England and attended the University of Sunderland. She joined the South African Medical Research Council as a scientist and progressed rapidly to senior scientist, division head, chief specialist scientist and then director of one of the largest units of the council.

She worked in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention research, working with microbicide trials for over ten years. She also led a KwaZulu-Natal team working on an HIV Vaccine Trial.

As the Director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit, Professor Ramjee increased the unit’s scientific staff from 22 to 350, helping it gain an international reputation.

She was awarded the “Outstanding Female Scientist” Award by the European Development Clinical Trials Partnerships in 2018.

Professor Ramjee was also an Honorary Professor at the University of Tamil Nadu in India, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) – Professor Salim Abdool Karim – described Ramjee as a scholar of note who made a huge contribution to HIV research.

“She was to me not only a colleague but also a dear friend a scientist I have worked with for many years. I recruited her to come and join me to do HIV research some 26 years ago and when I left MRC (Medical Research Council) she replaced me as the head of HIV research at the MRC. She was an outstanding scientist a scholar of a note she will be remembered as the person in South Africa who has made an enormous contribution to HIV control especially for women.”

Deputy President David Mabuza says the health sector has lost a champion for women’s health in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Mabuza’s spokesperson, Matshepo Seedat says, “In her, we have indeed lost a champion in the fight against the HIV epidemic, ironically at the hands of this global pandemic. 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. We would like to convey our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Professor Ramjee as well as to the medical research community.”

Scientific Director at the Doris Duke Medical Research Centre at the University of Natal, Professor Jerry Coovadia, says Professor Ramjee has made a significant contribution with her mother-to-child transmission research.

“Well on her way too much more successes than she already has she worked amongst women. As most people know now that women are the most vulnerable persons in the HIV epidemic. Her studies have a body of information we have that strengthens the role of women on protecting themselves and their families and fight against the disease.”

The spokesperson of the Aurum Institute, Khanyi Ndaki, says they are deeply saddened by the passing of its Chief Scientific Officer for HIV Prevention.

“The world has lost a bold and compassionate leader in the response to HIV. Professor Ramjee firmly believed in health as a fundamental human right. Her ground-breaking research in HIV prevention contributed to the global response to HIV and AIDS. Our thoughts during this difficult time are with her family, colleagues and the many people her life and work touched.”

In a statement, the President of the South African Medical Research Council, Glenda Gray, says Ramjee’s tenacity will never be forgotten.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health is yet to confirm reports that Ramjee died of COVID-19 complications.

On Tuesday, the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced that the national death toll from the coronavirus had risen from three to five. The two latest fatalities were a 79-year-old man from Gauteng who had an underlying chest condition and a 46-year-old woman from Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal.