Leading South African AIDS and Covid-19 scientist appointed to the 9-member Science Council of the World Health Organisation

26 April 2021

Press Release

World renowned South African infectious disease epidemiologist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, has been appointed as a member of the World Health Organisation’s Science Council.  The Science Council, comprising 9 of the world’s leading health researchers and chaired by Nobel Laureate Dr Harold Varmus, is being inaugurated on 27 April by WHO’s Director-General. The Council was established by the Dr Tedros Gebresus, WHO’s Director-General, as the ‘voice of scientific leadership and will directly advise WHO about high-priority scientific issues’.

“Individually you each represent scientific excellence in your domain”, said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the WHO. “And collectively you are an outstanding group of researchers and scientists, and the Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, and I are grateful of your commitment to WHO and health for all.”

The Council has been established to provide scientific advice to respond to health problems such as global health threats, interpret the latest scientific and medical knowledge, and identify the latest advances in technology to improve health globally. The Council will provide guidance in furtherance of WHO’s mission, including on the identification of current and new science and technology issues that WHO needs to address for direct or indirect impact on global health. The Council will provide strategic advice to WHO on science, research and innovation in relation to the future impact of scientific developments.

Abdool Karim is the Director of CAPRISA - Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa - and CAPRISA Professor of Global Health at Columbia University. He is internationally renowned for his scientific contributions in AIDS and Covid-19. “Pandemics such as AIDS and Covid-19 have highlighted the important role of science in global health. I am looking forward to participating in this Council providing scientific advice to WHO on future developments in health that the world needs to be better prepared for,” said Abdool Karim.    

Abdool Karim previously served as the chair of the South African ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19. “As an advisor in official forums and as an ambassador for science, Prof Karim has richly influenced our response to this pandemic, and enabled public understanding of COVID-19 through his clear and endearing communication of the science behind this global challenge to human health”, said President Cyril Ramaphosa. In December 2020, he received the John Maddox Prize together with Dr Anthony Fauci in the US for standing up for science.

In congratulating Abdool Karim the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) said:“ Prof Abdool Karim’s research spanning almost three decades on HIV and more recently his role as Chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates this collective expertise as a leading expert in his field, and an excellent science communicator. Over the years he has supported ASSAf’s health-related initiatives and also served as the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Health and strongly supports evidence-based science in the service of society.”

Abdool Karim is ranked by Web of Science as one of the world’s most highly cited scientists, indicating how widely his scientific papers are quoted and referenced by other scientists worldwide. He serves on the Boards of several journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet Global Health, and Lancet HIV. He is the Chair of the WHO’s HIV Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee for HIV and Hepatitis. He is also a member of the WHO TB-HIV Task Force. He is a member of the US National Academy of Medicine and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Additional notes:

Members of the Science Council are:

  • Prof Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate & Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical School, USA (Chair)
  • Prof Salim Abdool Karim, Director of the Centre for the AIDS program of research in South Africa (CAPRISA), South Africa & CAPRISA Professor of Global Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
  • Dr Edith Heard, Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, United Kingdom
  • Prof Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Professor of Medicine & Infectious Diseases, University of Malaya, Malaysia
  • Dr Mary-Claire King, Professor of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, USA
  • Prof Abla Mehio Sibai, Professor of Epidemiology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
  • Dr Denis Mukwege, Gynaecologist and Nobel Peace Laureate, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Dr Bill Pape, Director of Gheskio, Haiti
  • Dr Yongyuth Yuthavong, National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Thailand




Smita Maharaj

Mobile: 082 806 9931

Email: smita.maharaj@caprisa.org