Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim was featured in The Financial Times, the
UK’s leading business-focused newspaper, as one of the “Women of 2016”.
The Financial Times identified nineteen women from across the globe in politics,
sport, economics and science acknowledging their relentless and significant contributions in their respective fields.
Q: What was your earliest ambition?
A: To do something new and different. It was much later that I realised that’s what scientists do.
Q: Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
A: Vishwaroop state-aided school, Victoria school, and Tongaat high school. When I finished my bachelor’s degree at the University of Durban-Westville, I studied for an honours degree at the University of the Witwatersrand. I did my master’s at Columbia and my PhD at the University of Natal. In 1994, when democracy was established in South Africa, I was asked to set up the first Aids programme. It was a great honour: my PhD could wait!
Q: Who was or still is your mentor?
A: My grandmother and my parents, who instilled a passion for knowledge. Teachers who nurtured my curiosity. Zena Stein, my supervisor at Columbia. My PhD supervisors Jerry Coovadia and Jack Moodley.
Q: How physically fit are you?
A: I’m healthy, very functional!
Q: Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
A: You need perseverance to go with talent. It’s about staying the course.
Q: Have you ever taken an IQ test?
A: Many years ago.
Q: Are you politically committed?
A: My general approach is “Do the right thing”, whatever the issue.
Q: Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Q: Do you have more than one home?
A: A house in Durban and an apartment in Manhattan.
Q: What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A: More time to read for pleasure.
Q: What’s your biggest extravagance?
A: Spending time with my family.
Q: In what place are you happiest?
A: Being with my family and doing my research.
Q: What ambitions do you still have?
A: I’ve spent three decades working on preventing HIV infection in young women. Progress has been made but it’s far from complete. We need interventions that can meet the diverse needs of vulnerable women.
Q: What drives you on?
A: HIV, early pregnancy and vicious cycles of poverty and dependency mean young women’s potential is ended before it begins. We have knowledge and evidence, but there is so much to do, and so little time.
Q: What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
A: Balancing family and work. My three children, who are making a difference with their own talents. And our breakthrough in 2010 demonstrating that antiretrovirals could prevent infection. This brought new hope and optimism.
Q: What has been your greatest disappointment?
A: We have made so much progress in terms of HIV but are still struggling with preventing infection.
Q: If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
A: Nothing could have prepared her for the knowledge we now have of how wonderful and miraculous our immune defence system is.
Q: If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
A: Go back to the drawing board.
Q: Do you believe in assisted suicide?
A: I believe in dignified life and living. We all need to make our choices known well ahead of the point when someone else may need to make decisions for us.
Q: Do you believe in an afterlife?
A: Not really. It’s what you do today, and every day, that matters.
Q: If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
A: I’m not complacent, so definitely not a 10! But still, on the higher end of the scale.
Questions asked by Hester Lacey of Financial Times Magazine as part of the "Who are the FT’s women of 2016?" article.
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