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South Africa’s top Covid adviser steps down

Image: GovernmentZA [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Salim Abdool Karim says he wants to re-focus on HIV prevention research

Prominent South African HIV researcher Salim Abdool Karim has stepped down from co-chairing the government’s Covid-19 advisory committee, saying he wants to re-focus on his research. 

Abdool Karim, who heads up the Durban-based Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, notified health minister Zweli Mkhize of his decision in a letter dated 24 February, and which was shared with Research Professional News this week.

“When I accepted the appointment on 23 March 2020, little did I realise how important science would be in helping our country navigate the complexities of the coronavirus pandemic,” he writes in the letter. 

“As the one-year anniversary of my term nears, the time has come for me to return to my HIV research and my academic commitments,” he writes. From April, he will be re-focusing on research on using broadly neutralising antibodies for HIV prevention. 

It’s work that “is a critical stage but has slowed as I have not been able to devote time and effort to it”, he writes, adding: “It has been deeply disappointing to see how little progress we have made in the last few years in preventing HIV in young women in Africa.” 

Abdool Karim served his last day on the Covid advisory committee, and also the government’s Covid-19 vaccine advisory committee, on 23 March. He says he’ll remain available to assist both committees as and when required. 

He says he will also ensure that he completes his current Covid-19 obligations to the African Task Force for Coronavirus, The Lancet Commission on Covid-19, and others. 

Abdool Karim’s co-chair Marian Jacobs will remain in that post, and will be joined by Koleka Mlisana, another leading medical researcher from CAPRISA in Durban, as fellow co-chair.

Abdool Karim pays tribute to his colleagues on the advisory committee in the letter to the minister. “[The committee] is a labour of love, grappling with an avalanche of new information daily – sifting through fact, fiction, conspiracy theories, assumptions and projections to provide science-based advice in the midst of substantial uncertainty,” he writes. 

“I leave knowing full well that advice on our Covid-19 response is in safe hands.”