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Prof Glenda Gray's 'voice should not be silenced': Wits perinatal HIV research unit

Wits University's perinatal HIV research unit on Sunday defended Prof Glenda Gray.
Wits University's perinatal HIV research unit on Sunday defended Prof Glenda Gray.
Image: GroundUp/South African Medical Research Council

Wits university's perinatal HIV research unit (PHRU) on Sunday said calls for Prof Glenda Gray to be investigated for speaking about the lockdown were an insult to academic freedom and a violation of her right to freedom of expression.

Gray, president of the SA Medical Research Council (MRC), took a public stand last weekend against the government’s lockdown strategy, saying it should be ended and replaced with non-pharmaceutical interventions such as handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing.

She is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), a group of scientists tasked with advising the government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It was with dismay that the senior leadership of the PHRU read the responses to Prof Gray’s interview two weeks ago. Robust debate is welcomed but should not be accompanied by veiled threats," the PHRU said in a statement.

It said a direct request to the board of the MRC to investigate Gray was unacceptable.

"This we regard as an assault on academic freedom and a violation of her right to freedom of expression.

"Responses to the Covid-19 pandemic are mostly untested and based on expert opinion and, as such, must be reviewed and interrogated robustly."

It said scrutiny, debate and criticism would ensure that successful and appropriate interventions were implemented.

"Prof Gray’s passion for scientific approaches to improve the lives of our people was sparked in the wards of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital where she witnessed first hand the tragic impact of untreated HIV on mothers and children.

"Over the past 25 years Prof Gray’s activism, experience and research expertise in epidemiology and vaccinology has enabled her to successfully respond to national and global health issues, resulting in local and international recognition for her contributions to science.

"She is the recipient of numerous prestigious honours and accolades including the Nelson Mandela Health and Human Rights Award for her significant contributions in the field of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, SA's highest honour - the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) and was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017 and one of Forbes Pan-African 50 most powerful women on the African continent," the PHRU said.

It said Gray had made an immense contribution to science and that her contributions should be lauded.

"Her voice must not be silenced but rather she should be encouraged to continue to contribute to the national health agenda, and debate interventions that could mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic. We are proud to be associated with Prof Gray and commend her scientific courage."


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