The authoritative news magazine Time has included a South African doctor, Prof Glenda Gray, in its annual list of the most influential people in the world.
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.
First trial in seven years
“I was really surprised by the announcement,” Prof Gray tells Health24. “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.
Prof 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 Prof 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.”
Nelson Mandela Health & Human Rights Award
Gray’s story over the years is nothing shy of 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.”
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