Top Indian-origin virologist dies from coronavirus, tributes pour in
World-renowned vaccine scientist Gita Ramjee died in South Africa on Tuesday night. She had returned from London a week ago but reportedly showed no symptoms of COVID-19.
World-renowned virologist Gita Ramjee has become the first Indian-origin South African to have died after contracting the novel coronavirus that has killed five people in the country.
Ramjee, a stellar vaccine scientist and an HIV prevention research leader, had returned from London a week ago but reportedly showed no symptoms of COVID-19.
Ramjee, aged nearly 50 years, was the Clinical Trials Unit Principal Investigator and Unit Director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) offices in Durban.
"We are deeply saddened to inform you of the tragic passing of Prof Gita Ramjee in hospital today," said a statement issued by SAMRC President and CEO Glenda Gray.
"Prof Ramjee died of COVID-19 related complications," Gray added.
She was also the chief scientific officer for the Aurum Institute. The institute shared the news of Ramjee's death in a Twitter post on Tuesday night.
Aurum is deeply saddened by the death of its Chief Scientific Officer Prof Gita Ramjee, world renowned for her tireless work to find HIV prevention solutions for women. Group CEO Gavin Churchyard, described her as; "a bold & compassionate leader in the response to HIV." pic.twitter.com/9DvcjfInlh— The Aurum Institute (@Auruminstitute) March 31, 2020
In 2018, Ramjee was presented with the Outstanding Female Scientist Award in Lisbon by the European Development Clinical Trials Partnerships (EDCTP) for her lifetime commitment to finding new HIV prevention methods, which are conducive to the lifestyles, circumstances and perceived risk factors that South African women are faced with.
"This award is an acknowledgement of the unwavering determination by a global community to forever change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic," she had said at the time.
"Professor Gita Ramjee is a towering HIV prevention research leader whose work continues to contribute immensely to the global response to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic," Gray had said after the Indian-origin scientist received the award.
After the news broke, members of the scientific community and local activists and personalities shared their tributes to the remarkable researcher on Twitter.
We join the world in celebrating the life, the #leadership, the #courage and the #bravery of one of our own today. Gita Ramjee. #scientist #researcher #advocate #women . Thoughts are with her loved ones and her colleagues @Auruminstitute #Covid_19 pic.twitter.com/0Q7CVJhbql— TheVARG (@vaccineadvocacy) March 31, 2020
TAC sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Prof Gita Ramjee, whose passing has been confirmed. She was a pioneer in the HIV response. May her soul rest in power. https://t.co/i48Td59Cip— TAC (@TAC) March 31, 2020
Professor Gita Ramjee has died of Coronavirus.— #OurFavOnlineDoc ???? (@DrOlufunmilayo) March 31, 2020
She was Chief Specialist Scientist and Director of the South African Medical Research on HIV Prevention. Former winner of “Outstanding Female Scientist”.
She’s well respected all across the world of science. This is a black day. pic.twitter.com/mqSQhlWgYk
Gutted. A kind person, a stellar vaccine scientist, a "towering HIV prevention research leader," someone who dedicated her life to ending the HIV pandemic, has died of Covid-19. Prof. Gita Ramjee was Chief Specialist Scientist + Director of the South African Medical Research... pic.twitter.com/SNiACexmSq— Dr. Seema Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) March 31, 2020
Covid-19 has robbed South Africa of a towering HIV researcher and globally renowned scholar.— Suntosh Pillay (@suntoshpillay) March 31, 2020
My sincere condolences to all those who knew Professor Gita Ramjee. ????#RIPProfRamjee #Covid_19SA pic.twitter.com/Ulnnr6M6Ww
Ramjee was married to pharmacist Pravin Ramjee, a South African of Indian descent. Her funeral arrangements have not been announced. Attendance at funerals in South Africa is highly restricted and requires permits as the country is going through a 21-day nationwide lockdown announced last week by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Five South Africans have died from COVID-19 since Sunday, the third day of the lockdown. Over 13,50 cases have been reported in the country so far.
The South African government on Tuesday announced that it will double to 10,000 the teams going door-to-door to test people for COVID-19, mainly in the overcrowded Black townships created during the apartheid era.
On Sunday evening, in a national broadcast, Ramaphosa cautioned thousands of South Africans who have not been taking the lockdown seriously.
The death toll from the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic has risen to 41,654 and over 850,580 people have been infected by the deadly virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.