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[CAPE TOWN] The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) has awarded a South African medical doctor with a gold medal for his contributions to society. The prize was given at the second annual ASSAf awards ceremony on Friday (29 October).

Renowned paediatric HIV/AIDS specialist Hoosen 'Jerry' Coovadia of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban spent much of his career fighting apartheid, only to find himself opposing a democratically-elected government for its close links with people who deny the link between HIV and AIDS.

"I'm deeply honoured by the recognition outside my professional community of medical doctors," said Coovadia. "I take special pleasure in being recognised by the community of scientists in South Africa."

Despite his significant contributions to the political struggle against apartheid, during which time his house was bombed and he received anonymous death threats, Coovadia has been the victim of several vicious personal attacks by high-ranking government officials in South Africa’s first decade of democracy.

The ASSAf citation says Coovadia's research "brought him national and international accolades but also resulted in clashes with some prominent government figures who hold unorthodox views on HIV/AIDS".

The citation, read by Tony Mbewu of the Medical Research Council at a function at the University of Cape Town medical school, goes on to say: "As with his earlier principled and unwavering opposition to apartheid, he has remained openly critical of government policy on HIV/AIDS where he has felt this to be necessary."

Internationally recognised for his groundbreaking research in first tracing and then minimising HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child, Coovadia has played a pivotal role in establishing a breast milk bank for infected mothers.

Much of his research focused on finding low-cost ways to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child in a deeply impoverished society where many AIDS-infected mothers do not have access to safe drinking water to prepare bottled feeds.

Coovadia also chaired the 12th International Conference on AIDS, held in Durban in 2000.

"Professor Coovadia deserves this award," says Nathan Geffen, spokesperson for the Treatment Action Campaign, a lobby group representing South Africans with HIV/AIDS. "A lot of doctors have spoken out. A lot of scientists have spoken out. We need more to continue to speak out. This award is encouraging."

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