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 Gita Ramjee

Professor Gita Ramjee

BSc (Hons) Combined Studies (Chemistry and Physiology) 1980

Growing up in Uganda, Gita’s first experience of exile came at the hands of Idi Amin, the dictator who forced all Asians out of the country in the 1970s. After a couple of years in a high school in India, the land of her ancestors, she relocated again, this time to the north-east of England where she attended the University of Sunderland.

It was in here that she met her future husband - a South African of Indian descent.

She said: “I loved my time in Sunderland. I lived in Wearmouth Hall, and we mixed with students from all disciplines which I think was a big plus. We worked hard but had a lot of fun too especially in the first two years – and I met my husband in Sunderland.

“After graduation I married and went to live in South Africa. It was 1980, and Apartheid was still in force, so it came as a big shock given the life I had just left as a student in Sunderland! We moved to Durban, as it was more cosmopolitan, and I joined the Medical School at the University of Kwazulu Natal and started work in the Department of Paediatrics.”

After the birth of her two children Gita studied for her Master's Degree, and then her PhD, ‘Kidney diseases of childhood’, which she completed in 1994 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She then joined the South African Medical Research Council as a scientist and progressed rapidly to senior scientist, division head, chief specialist scientist and then Director of one of the largest units of the Council. She is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Tamil Nadu, India, and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

As the Director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit, Prof Ramjee built the unit's scientific staff from 22 to 350, and helped it gain an international reputation.

Prof Ramjee’s commitment to HIV prevention research and attention to high quality data and ethical research was instrumental in gaining the Unit substantial international donor and sponsor support.

Over the past two decades, she has conducted several community based trials of HIV prevention with her team, educating hundred of disadvantaged community members on HIV prevention, treatment and care. Gita has not only has built scientific capacity in her Unit in Durban, but has empowered young women and men on HIV prevention in several communities around the greater Durban area in South Africa. Durban, which is the province of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, is the epicenter of the HIV pandemic in the world.

In 2012 Prof Ramjee received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the international Microbicide Conference for her major contribution over two decades to global scientific knowledge in the field of HIV prevention. 

More recently, she was awarded a scientific excellence Gold award by the South African Medical research Council.

The European Development Clinical trial Partnership (EDCTP), which is funded by the EU and aims to enhance N-N and N-S collaboration on poverty related diseases including HIV, also awarded her with the Outstanding Female Scientist award. It was presented to her in Lisbon, Portugal in September 2018.

She was recognised for her life’s work that has focused on finding new HIV prevention methods, which are conducive to the lifestyles, circumstances and perceived risk factors that South African women are faced with. Recent success has been the moderately effective vaginal ring for HIV prevention among women. Gita’s KwaZulu-Natal based team hosts five of 20 HIV Vaccine Trial Network sites spread across the country, as a part of a global scientific journey to find an effective HIV vaccine. Her team is also testing a novel long acting injectable for the prevention of HIV in three communities across the greater Durban area.

She explained: “Women are the hardest hit by HIV in this region, and there is still a lot to do to address health issues in developing countries. There is a need for more holistic approach to HIV prevention which should include reproductive health care for women. I will continue to work with international donors to set the global health agenda and prioritize areas of research which will have the greatest impact on the lives of young women, and on public health in general.”

Gita is also Honorary Clinical Professor in the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington in Seattle and Honorary Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in  London.

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