Hoosen Coovadia, 83, Medical Force in South Africa’s H.I.V. Fight, Dies


“It took weeks to get the walls rebuilt,” his daughter, Anuschka, said, “and during that time, my father’s medical students came on a schedule, protecting the house with broom poles and sticks, sitting out all night. There was so much love from his community of students.”

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife and five grandchildren.

Dr. Coovadia wrote a textbook on child health now in its seventh edition, mentored dozens of students and researchers, many of whom became health ministers and key figures in global health, and conducted pioneering work on measles and pediatric kidney disorders. He advised successive South African governments from various positions, including a seat on the powerful National Planning Commission; led international research projects; published widely in scientific journals; and received awards, including the Star of South Africa, the country’s highest honor, presented by President Nelson Mandela.

But it was his work on H.I.V. that had perhaps the greatest impact on global policy, and which drew him into an unexpectedly vicious political battle.

In the late 1980s, he started to see babies with H.I.V. arriving at the hospital, prompting him to begin researching ways to stop the transmission of the virus from mothers to their children. “He considered it another form of oppression for these women, who were Black, who were poor, who were often rural — and on top of all of that, had H.I.V.,” said Salim Abdool Karim, a leading authority on H.I.V. globally and a former student of Dr. Coovadia’s.

By the 1990s, the World Health Organization was recommending that women with H.I.V. feed their children with baby formula rather than breast milk, which could transmit the virus. But Dr. Coovadia suspected — and then proved in a series of studies — that the risk was minimal in exclusively breastfed infants, and that the health benefits for infants whose mothers did not have access to clean water with which to mix formula far outweighed the risk from H.I.V.


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