Professor Geeta Ramjee, a renowned virologist known for her research work in HIV, passed away in Durban on Tuesday evening due to complications from COVID-19.
“All these years, I never realised the stellar work my sister did, until today. I am receiving messages from all over the world about her. She never spoke about how popular she was in the scientific community,” her younger sister Asmita Parashar told The Indian Express in Mumbai.
Ramjee (63) was the chief scientific officer at The Aurum Institute. She was also the chief specialist scientist and director of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on HIV Prevention. The Aurum Institute took to Twitter to post the news of her passing on Tuesday. Its group CEO Gavin Churchyard described her as “a bold and compassionate leader in the response to HIV”.
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
The SAMRC president and CEO Glenda Gary also issued a statement: “We are deeply saddened to inform you the tragic passing of Prof Gita Ramjee in hospital today.”
The 63-year-old had travelled to London in March from where she is suspected to have picked up the virus. A few days after her return to South Africa, she felt unwell and went to a doctor. “Her first test came negative or inconclusive for COVID-19. Then her breathing got worse. Last Tuesday, she was hospitalised. None of us suspected she had coronavirus,” Parashar said. Last week, a second test for COVID-19 came positive. Follow LIVE Coronavirus Latest Updates
Her two sons live in UK, both were not able to fly to South Africa due to the lockdown. Her pharmacist husband remains in self-isolation after she was detected with the virus.
Ramjee did not have any comorbidity like diabetes, hypertension or blood pressure problems. Her condition briefly improved during hospitalisation, but her breathing worsened by March 26. On March 28, she was put on ventilator support.
Parashar lives in Mumbai and could not attend her sister’s funeral due to the lockdown. “Nobody from the family could meet her in her final days. Our entire family is shocked at her demise,” she said.
On Twitter, her colleagues describe Ramjee as a woman who would be immaculately dressed, with “not a hair out of place” and a red lipstick always adorning her lips. She was involved in HIV prevention and treatment clinical trials in South Africa, was an expert in microbicide research, vaccine development, and has over 170 research articles under her name.
In 2018, the European Development Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) awarded her outstanding female scientist award for her work in HIV prevention methods. Her focus was on women health who she felt were badly hit by the HIV epidemic.
She was born in Uganda, and later moved to UK to study in University of Sunderland. She had visited Mumbai two months ago for a family vacation.
Her husband, Pravin Ramjee has no symptoms and remains stable. Since last week, South Africa remains under a 21-day lockdown. Ramjee’s funeral will be conducted under strict vigilance with very few people.
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