Messages of condolence are pouring in for the world-renowned scientist, Professor Gita Ramjee. Professor Ramjee was the Chief Scientific Officer for HIV Prevention at the Aurum Institute.

She previously held numerous portfolios within the South African Medical Research Council, focusing on HIV research and prevention. Professor Ramjee died in an Umhlanga hospital in Durban.

The 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.

Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Professor Salim Abdool Karim, has described Ramjee as a scholar of note who made a huge contribution in 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, the Medical Research Council, she replaced me as the head of HIV research at the MRC. She was an outstanding scientist – a scholar of 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.

‘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,” Mabuza’s spokesperson Matshepo Seedat said.

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.”

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

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

On Tuesday, 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.

In the video below, tributes pour in for Professor Gita Ramje:

-Reporting by Nonhlakanipho Magwaza