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Quarraisha Abdool Karim honoured for her pioneering research
Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]
Published: 15/12/2020

​​Stellenbosch University (SU) bestowed an honorary doctorate on the internationally-acclaimed infectious diseases epidemiologist Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim on Tuesday (15 December 2020) at SU's December graduation. Abdool Karim, who is the Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, received the degree Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa at a small physical graduation ceremony for doctoral graduates from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences held at the Endler Hall in the Konservatorium on the Stellenbosch campus.

She was honoured for, among others, her pioneering research in the field of HIV and for advocating for the rights of people living with and affected by HIV; her commitment to advancing the health of young women in Africa and globally; her research leadership and scientific breakthroughs; and her generosity in sharing her knowledge through scientific and citizen-centred endeavours in Africa and beyond.

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In her acceptance speech, Abdool Karim said she is “deeply honoured and feel very privileged to be the recipient of this honorary doctorate and it's been made even more special with having this conferred to me by the Chancellor who is a very dear friend, a friendship that goes back over three decades."

She congratulated the doctoral graduates and emphasised the important contribution they make in providing the necessary scientific information to healthcare professionals who use it to preserve life during the pandemic.

“It is amazing that in our response to COVID-19, science established itself as a firm part of society. We understand the role of scientists to generate new knowledge, to respond and be advocates for that evidence to be applied so that society benefits, and to communicate that knowledge to the public so that it is accessible and available."QuarraishaAbdoolKarim-6.jpg

Abdool Karim said the pandemic reminded us that we are interdependent and that if we work together nationally and globally, we can achieve miracles. In this regard, she mentioned how quickly different vaccines have been developed to treat COVID-19.

“Humanity has reached new heights in the face of this virus and we can do that if we work together. If we are inclusive and we work with unity of purpose, we can achieve great things."

Abdool Karim added that these same principles should be applied to achieve gender equity and improve the health of women – something that has unfortunately not received enough attention during the pandemic.


Intent on increasing the national and international focus on HIV prevention, especially among adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa, Prof Abdool Karim has been at the global forefront of HIV research for 28 years.

It was her team at the Centre for AIDS Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), where she is associate scientific director, that conducted the landmark Tenofovir gel CAPRISA 004 trial. This trial demonstrated for the first time that anti-retrovirals can prevent HIV infection and, since being published in the journal Science, has received more than 2 000 citations.

An A-rated South African scientist and infectious disease epidemiologist, Abdool Karim is also professor in clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, New York, and pro-vice chancellor for African Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She graduated with a BSc degree from the University of Durban-Westville in 1981 and then obtained a BSc Honours degree in Biochemistry from the University of the Witwatersrand. Moving to the USA, Karim obtained a Master's degree in Parasitology at Columbia University, New York, in 1988. She completed her PhD in Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2000.

Today, Abdool Karim is recognised worldwide for her scientific contributions in highlighting the vulnerability of young women, the need for women-initiated technologies and the importance of integrating HIV-prevention efforts into sexual reproductive health services.

She has received over 30 national and international awards. These include the Order of Mapungubwe, the highest citizen recognition from the President of South Africa, and the prestigious L'Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science award for Africa and the Middle East.

In 2014, Abdool Karim was the first woman recipient of the TWAS-Lenovo science prize, an award of USD 100 000. In the same year, she received the Gold Academy of Science of South Africa Science-for-Society Award and the Gold Scientific Merit Award from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

Abdool Karim is Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV on the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS), as well as scientific advisor to the executive director of UNAIDS. She currently serves as vice-chairperson of the board of the SAMRC and is a member of the World Academy of Science.

Stellenbosch University is honoured to confer on Quarraisha Abdool Karim the degree, Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa, as recognition of her deep commitment to research and education in women's health in Africa and globally, specifically for her successful efforts in increasing the national and international focus on HIV and HIV prevention.

  • Main photo: Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim at the graduation ceremony. Photo 1: Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim (middle) with Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation at SU, Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean of the FMHS, Prof Salim Abdool Karim (husband), Mr Wasim Abdool Karim (son) and Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor. Photographer: Stefan Els.