HIV Vaginal Gel Nets Inaugural African Science Prize

The development of a vaginal gel that can cut a woman's risk of HIV infection by over 50% has been one of the few unqualified victories amid a decade of setbacks in HIV/AIDS research. Tomorrow, the husband-and-wife team of researchers who proved the gel's effectiveness will receive the inaugural Olusegun Obasanjo Prize from the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) at a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Quarraisha and I are humbled and honored to be the recipients," South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim told ScienceINSIDER, referring to his wife, Quarraisha Abdool Karim. "Women bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic in southern Africa. Tenofovir gel is the first HIV prevention technology to empower them to directly control their risk of HIV infection."

The prize is named for the former president of Nigeria. Malik Maaza, a physicist at the iThemba LABS-National Research Foundation of South Africa and fellow of the AAS, says that Obasanjo put up $5 million of his own money and that his gift "was highly scrutinized by noble spirits and capable senior members of the AAS before acceptance." The $5000 cash award carries the added significance of being a science prize by and for Africans, he says.