South Africans need to determine what values we want as we fight HIV,
said South African scientist Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim shortly after
being appointed UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV.
“Is it is OK for a 40-year-old man to be having sex with a 15-year-old
girl,” asked Abdool Karim after her appointment was announced in Khayelitsha.
Some 2 000 young South African women aged 15 to 24 are infected with HIV
every week, many by older men.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé described Abdool Karim as “a strong
and consistent champion of young people living with and affected by HIV”.
“She will use her new role to continue to translate scientific research
and knowledge into people-centred solutions and prevention programmes to reduce
the factors making young people so vulnerable to HIV infection,” said Sidibe.
Abdool Karim recalled how she did one of the first population-based
studies ever “about 30 years ago” and found
that “young women were becoming infected with HIV five to seven years before
“Young African women aged 15 to 24 are eight times more likely to be
infected with HIV than young men of the same age… We need more science and
technology to help young women who are unable to negotiate safer sex,” she
Abdool Karim is the Associate Scientific Director of the Durban-based Centre
for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa).UNAIDS Executive
Director Michel Sidibe with new UNAIDS Ambassador Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim
and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi
“She has made pioneering contributions to understanding the HIV epidemic
among young people, especially among young women, and is a strong advocate for
the rights of people living with and affected by HIV,” said UNAIDS. “In her new
role as a UNAIDS Special Ambassador, she will focus on adolescents and HIV,
while also championing the involvement of young women in science.”
Last year, around 610 000 young people aged 15 to 24 became infected
with HIV, and young women accounting for 59% of new
Order of Mapungubwe
“As we increase our understanding of the HIV epidemic and the
transmission dynamics that place young people at higher risk of infection, all
sectors of society must work together to make sure that adolescents have access
to the information and services that can keep them safe and well through a
crucial period of their lives and into adulthood,” said Abdool Karim.
Abdool Karim is also Professor in Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia
University in the USA and an Honorary Professor in Public Health at the
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. She is a member of the UNAIDS
Scientific Expert Panel and Scientific Adviser to the Executive Director of
In 2013, Professor Abdool Karim was awarded South Africa’s highest
honour, the Order of Mapungubwe, for her contribution to the response to HIV. –
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