The former head of South Africa's ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19, Indian-origin professor Salim Abdool Karim, has been appointed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Science Council.
The Science Council, which has nine of the world's leading health researchers, is chaired by Nobel Laureate Dr Harold Varmus.
It will provide scientific advice to respond to health problems such as global health threats, interpret the latest scientific and medical knowledge, and identify the latest advances in technology to improve health globally.
The council was inaugurated on Tuesday by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Speaking at the launch, Adhanom reiterated the importance of science in the formulation of preparedness and response plans to health issues.
“The (COVID-19) pandemic has taught us that science is not an abstract intellectual pursuit; it can be the difference between life and death,” he said.
“The pandemic has also demonstrated that although science can deliver life-saving solutions, there are many other factors that determine whether or not all people are able to enjoy the benefits of science,” Adhanom added.
“Individually you each represent scientific excellence in your domain, and collectively you are an outstanding group of researchers and scientists”, said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the WHO.
Abdool Karim is the Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), which confirmed the appointment in a statement on Monday.
He is also a professor of global health at Columbia University.
Karim, who is internationally renowned for his scientific contributions in the fields of AIDS and COVID-19, stepped down from his position as chair of the ministerial committee last month to concentrate on his academic work.
During his year-long tenure, Karim became the face of the fight against the pandemic in South Africa, with commendations for his approach to simplifying for laymen the issues related to COVID-19.
"Pandemics such as AIDS and COVID-19 have highlighted the important role of science in global health. I am looking forward to participating in this council, providing scientific advice to WHO on future developments in health that the world needs to be better prepared for," he said about his appointment.
Other members of the Science Council are Dr Edith Heard, Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, United Kingdom; Adeeba Kamarulzaman, professor of medicine and infectious diseases, University of Malaya, Malaysia; Dr Mary-Claire King, professor of genome sciences, University of Washington, USA; Abla Mehio Sibai, professor of epidemiology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon; Dr Denis Mukwege, gynaecologist and Nobel Peace laureate, Democratic Republic of Congo; Dr Bill Pape, Director of Gheskio, Haiti; and Dr Yongyuth Yuthavong, National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Thailand.