Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim named as the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO Laureate for Africa and Arab States

31 March 2016

Five leading women scientists across five regions and 15 promising young researchers were honoured at the 18th edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Ceremony at the Maison de la Mutualité in Paris on 24th March. In the midst of Nobel Laureates, previous recipients of the L’Oreal-UNESCO Laureate Awards, and some of the best and brightest scientific minds globally, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim was presented with the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science award for Africa and the Arab States region. According to the international Jury the award was in recognition for her “remarkable contribution to the prevention and treatment of HIV and associated infections and greatly improving the quality of life of women in Africa.”

Nominated by more than 2,600 leading scientists, 2016’s five laureates were selected by an independent and international jury of 13 prominent scientists in the international scientific community. “The Jury has recognised the tenacity, the creativity and the intelligence of the five eminent women scientists who bring their transformative sciences to change the world. Each scientist has had a unique career path combining exceptional talent, a deep commitment to her profession and remarkable courage in a field still largely dominated by men.”

The President of the Jury, Nobel Laureate Professor Elizabeth H. Blackburn, is the first woman to hold this position in the history of the awards. She is the 2008 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Laureate and the 2009 joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  Prof Blackburn congratulated the winners and said “2016’s laureates bring an extraordinary vision and immediate solutions to major human health issues…All their careers are exceptional, their discoveries truly new and they epitomise top-level research.”

The awards were presented by Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO and Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman and CEO of L’Oréal and Chairman of the L’Oréal Foundation who also officially launched the Manifesto For Women in Science to draw attention to the under-representation of women in the sciences.

An advocate for social justice of adolescent girls and young women in Africa, Prof Abdool Karim said she was deeply honoured and privileged to be recognised as a L’Oréal-UNESCO laureate - “I hope that this award inspires young women in Africa and the Middle East to pursue careers in science and technology as the world needs more women in science.  Our region needs more scientists addressing the many challenges that face us locally including ways to prevent HIV infection in adolescent girls and young women who continue to bear a disproportionate burden of HIV infection in the region”.

Prof Abdool Karim was the co- Principal Investigator of the landmark CAPRISA 004 tenofovir gel trial which provided proof-of-concept that an antiretroviral microbicide can safely prevent HIV infections with consistent use of the product. The study was highlighted by the journal Science as one of the Top 10 scientific breakthroughs in 2010. The study also provided the first evidence that an antiretroviral microbicide can prevent the risk of acquiring HSV-2 infection. Her scientific and research contributions in understanding the evolving HIV epidemic span over 25 years and has made a profound impact on HIV treatment and prevention policies at a global level. She is currently Vice-President of the African Academy of Sciences. She is a Foreign Associate Member of the US National Academy of Science (formerly, Institute of Medicine), Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, Fellow of the Academy of Science of South Africa and Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences. Prof Abdool Karim is a member of the UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel.

She holds a Professorship in Clinical Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, USA and an honorary professorship in Public Health at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. 

Prof Abdool Karim also participated in a presentation at an extraordinary session of the Academy of Science of France on Tuesday 22nd March and participated in a panel discussion on closing gender gaps at UNESCO on Wednesday 23rd March.