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SA doctor makes list of most influential people in the world

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Glenda Gray

The news magazine Time has included a South African doctor, Professor Glenda Gray, in its annual list of the most influential people in the world, reports Health24. Gray is currently the president and CEO of the

Gray is currently the president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council and an internationally acclaimed HIV researcher. The magazine included her in the list based on her leadership role in finding a vaccine for HIV/Aids.

“I was really surprised by the announcement,” Gray is quoted in the report as saying. “At first I thought they had made a mistake. I should not be on the list of the most influential people in the world! It’s quite intimidating.”

At the end of last year an ambitious programme was announced to evaluate an HIV vaccine regimen in South Africa that, if successful, could be the first HIV vaccine to be licensed globally. Gray and her team are leading this trial which is the first HIV vaccine efficacy trial in seven years.

As the co-principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), an international network that conducts over 80% of the clinical trials of candidate HIV vaccines globally, she provides leadership at a global level. Gray thinks her dedication played a big role in her being nominated. “I have always said that if we find a solution to HIV we will find it in South Africa. As a county we have come a long way with many breakthroughs over the years.”

According to Gray the field of HIV vaccination research is fraught with failure. “You get caught up in finding a vaccine. It’s great that people are recognising the work that we do. It’s an honour that we get that recognition. The science is not forgotten.”

The report says Gray’s story over the years highlights dedication, commitment and passion in addressing health issues that have affected and still affect South Africans. In 1996, together with James McIntyre, she co-founded the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (HPRU) based in Soweto where they developed a world-renowned unit focused on HIV prevention and treatment. In 2002, at a time when government propagated Aids denialism and denied HIV infected women antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to prevent transmission to their babies, Gray and McIntyre were awarded the Nelson Mandela Health & Human Rights Award for their work in response to this challenge.

Despite all the challenges, Gray is determined to continue her work. “We can’t rest. We will find a solution. I might symbolise hope and passion, but it is the hard work of a whole team of people that will ultimately make a difference.”

 

IoL reports that Siobhan O'Connor, an executive editor at Time wrote about Gray: “It can be easy to forget that until recently, HIV was a disease you didn't talk about. Ironically, that's what inspired Glenda Gray to study the virus in the first place. As a young medical student who fought to desegregate hospitals in apartheid-era South Africa, she was alarmed when she started seeing babies dying of a virus that her own government claimed wasn't causing Aids.”

“That's when the pediatrician in training learned firsthand that with HIV, you're fighting a battle on two fronts: you're up against a vicious virus—and the stigma that allowed it to proliferate, unchecked, for so long.

“Gray decided to fight the virus and the silence around it through research. Thanks in part to her work on mother-to-child transmission, the number of babies born with HIV has dropped from 600 000 a year to 150 000. Now, she's set her sights on a way to inoculate infants before they're ever put at risk.

“Her ongoing HIV-vaccine study is the largest of its kind ever conducted in South Africa, and with it, Gray is once again doing her part to make sure that the science of HIV – and the conversation around it – never stops evolving.”

The report says Gray was previously awarded South Africa's highest honor, the Order of Mapungubwe.

[link url="http://www.health24.com/News/sa-doctor-on-time-100-most-influential-list-20170420-2"]Health24 report[/link]
[link url="http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/sa-doctor-makes-times-most-influential-people-list-8797007"]IoL report[/link]

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