Prominent Scientist Professor Hoosen “Jerry” Coovadia Leaves a Lasting Legacy

The recent passing of Professor Hoosen “Jerry” Coovadia, a distinguished medical scientist and a revered figure in the field of pediatric HIV/AIDS, has elicited an outpouring of tributes from various quarters. The 83-year-old Professor Coovadia, known worldwide for his groundbreaking work, peacefully passed away at his residence in La Lucia, Durban.

The Soofie Masjid in Riverside, Durban, served as the venue for his janaza, an Islamic funeral prayer, followed by his burial at the Soofie Bhaijaan Cemetery. Countless individuals have come forward to honor his remarkable character and the profound impact he made on the realms of science and society.

One of those who shared heartfelt memories and insights about Professor Coovadia is Dr. Shakira Cassim, a Specialist Paediatrician and former Vice President of the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa (IMASA). She recounted her initial encounters with Professor Coovadia during her medical school days at Durban Medical School and later as a registrar in the paediatric department. Dr. Cassim particularly recalled the pivotal Aids 2000 conference in Durban, where Professor Coovadia took a bold stance against the government’s position on antiretroviral therapy. He also played a pivotal role in involving IMASA in the NGO sector of the conference, ultimately recognizing the organization’s substantial contributions to the cause. Their collaborative efforts extended to numerous interfaith initiatives focused on addressing HIV and AIDS.

Dr. Cassim shared a poignant moment from 2005 when Professor Coovadia faced a life-threatening illness. She spoke of her daily visits, the recitation of Surah Yaseen, and heartfelt prayers by his hospital bedside during the early hours of the morning. She firmly believed in the power of prayer, which she credited with aiding his recovery, enabling him to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage the following year. Her prayers extended to Professor Coovadia’s family, including Zubie, his pillar of strength, and his children. In her words, “The giant tree has fallen, but the fruits of his labor live on to continue his legacy. Ameen.”

Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises, also shared a profound connection with Professor Coovadia, spanning nearly five decades. Their journey began as student activists in the early 1970s, and their collaboration extended to various civic and political organizations, including the Natal Indian Congress, the UDF, and the ANC’s underground operations. Beyond their shared activism, Gordhan cherished Professor Coovadia as a friend, a brave comrade, a formidable mentor, and a brilliant intellectual.

Professor Coovadia’s unwavering stance against the apartheid regime, coupled with his strategic vision during the nation’s post-apartheid reconstruction, left an enduring impact. His advocacy for a transformative health system through NAMDA, as well as his role in mentoring countless doctors at the Durban Medical School, solidified his reputation as a tireless advocate for justice. Furthermore, his global recognition as an AIDS scientist, particularly for his pioneering work on mother-to-child transmission of HIV, showcased his unyielding dedication to combating AIDS denialism.

Dr. Salim Karim, the head of CAPRISA, paid tribute to Professor Coovadia as a mentor, close friend, and comrade. He lauded him as one of South Africa’s foremost intellectuals, emphasizing his commitment to scientific excellence, social justice, and equity. Professor Coovadia’s legacy transcends his scientific achievements, encompassing his resolute stance against apartheid and corruption.

Dr. Ahmed Manjra, a Durban paediatrician and former MYM member, highlighted the monumental impact of Professor Coovadia’s contributions to medicine and human rights. His groundbreaking work has saved countless children from the devastating effects of HIV, and his mentorship has inspired a new generation of doctors to carry on his legacy. Dr. Manjra expressed profound gratitude for the guidance he received during his own career in pediatrics and underscored the enduring significance of Professor Coovadia’s role in the struggle for liberation.

As we bid farewell to Professor Coovadia, his memory and legacy will endure. May his soul find peace, and may his family find solace in the knowledge that his remarkable contributions to science, society, and justice will continue to resonate for generations to come.