Postgraduate Research &
Innovation Symposium (PRIS)

Keynote address

Watch Prof Karim's talk

Speaker

Professor Salim S Abdool Karim

Salim S. Abdool Karim, FRS, is a South African clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist widely recognized for scientific contributions to HIV prevention and treatment. He is Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Durban, and CAPRISA Professor of Global Health at Columbia University, New York.

He is an Adjunct Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard University, Boston, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Cornell University, New York, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. He is an Associate Member of The Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. He previously served as President of the South African Medical Research Council and is currently serving as the Chair of the South African Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 and as a Member of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus and the Lancet Commission on COVID-19.

Dr Abdool Karim is ranked among the world’s most highly cited scientists by Web of Science. He serves on the Boards of several journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet Global Health, Lancet HIV and mBio. He is the Chair of the UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel, WHO’s HIV Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee as well as the WHO TB-HIV Task Force. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Global Health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

His many awards include the African Union’s “Kwame Nkrumah Award” which is Africa’s most prestigious scientific award, the Kuwait Al-Sumait Award, the Canadian Gairdner Global Health Award and pinnacle awards from the African Academy of Sciences, Academy of Science in South Africa, Royal Society of South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council. He is member of the US National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Microbiology and the Association of American Physicians. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).

Topic

Covid-19: Looking ahead at 2021

South Africa currently has the highest number of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases in Africa recording over 700,000 cases and 19,000 deaths by the end of October. Although the South African government’s mitigation strategies initially slowed the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections, it had substantial adverse economic and health impacts.  As restrictions on movement started to ease incrementally and economic activities resumed from 1 June, the number of SARS-CoV-2 cases and deaths increased with the peak of infections exceeding 12,000 per day reached in mid-July with a steady decline in cases to about 1400 infections per day in late September.

This presentation will describe the Covid-19 epidemic trends in South Africa, explore how the meaning of science has changed in the era of Covid-19 and reflect on what can be anticipated in 2021 and beyond. A positive scientific consequence of the Covid-19 epidemic has been how science has become a common pastime with data being available fast, transparently, and open. Mitigating the impact of Covid-19 has been complicated but has highlighted the importance of “following the science”. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 epidemic has also promoted some poor-quality science and “snake oil treatments”.

Even if a vaccine is developed within the next few months, the threat of a second wave is ever present, and it is likely that we will need to live with the Coronavirus threat beyond 2021. As a result, we need to remain vigilant and adapt to a “new normal”. The new normal comprises three key elements 1) Adherence to protection measures, especially social distancing, mandatory masks in public and hand hygiene, 2) mitigating the risk of resurgence, especially preventing superspreading through mass gatherings and 3) controlling new viral entry from travel.