Columbia University Medical Center

Epidemiologists Receive Prize for Scientific Breakthrough on HIV and Herpes Prevention

The African Academy of Sciences’ awarded Salim S. Abdool Karim, MD, PhD, and Quarraisha Abdool Karim, PhD, faculty members in the Mailman School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology the inaugural Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for their highly acclaimed work on the use of the microbicide, Tenofovir gel, to prevent HIV infection and genital herpes in women. The former Nigerian President, His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in whose name the award is made, will attend the ceremony at the African Academy of Sciences on November 10 when the presentation is made to the South African scientists.

Drs. Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim

The award-winning breakthrough by the Drs. Abdool Karim is the culmination of 17 years of microbicide research. In 2010, this husband and wife research team demonstrated that 1% Tenofovir gel reduced HIV acquisition by 39% overall, and by 54% in women, who used the gel consistently. Further, they showed that Tenofovir gel prevents genital herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus – 2), an incurable lifelong sexually transmitted infection which enhances the spread of HIV, by 51% in women. The study known as CAPRISA 004 is particularly significant as it is a global first in empowering women against HIV. Tenofovir gel, a pioneering HIV prevention strategy that women can control, is particularly important for young women, who can rarely negotiate condom use or faithfulness with their male partner.

AIDS and global health leaders have called the results “a game changer,” “a true breakthrough for AIDS prevention,” and “a significant milestone for women in the thirty year history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” The finding was ranked among the Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010 by Science.

Tenofovir gel is set to alter the future trajectory of the HIV epidemic. In South Africa alone, it is estimated that Tenofovir gel would avert 1.3 million new HIV infections and 800,000 AIDS deaths over the next 20 years. Once implemented on a broad scale, Tenofovir gel is set to save millions of lives and mark the turning point in global HIV epidemic.

Drs. Salim and Quarrisha Abdool Karim have made significant scientific contributions to HIV prevention and treatment. In addition to their faculty positions at the Mailman School, Salim S. Abdool Karim is Director of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. Quarraisha Abdool Karim is Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA and Professor of Public Health at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Abdool Karims have published extensively in world renowned journals including Science, Nature, Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. They have, individually or jointly, received numerous prestigious awards and medals, including TWAS Prize in Medical Sciences and the Gold Medal award from the South African Academy of Science.

Originally posted on the Mailman School of Public Health website.

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