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I’ve never seen a disease like COVID-19: World-renowned South African Indian-origin academic

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World-renowned South African Indian-origin academic Prof Hoosen Mahomed ‘Jerry’ Coovadia has described the COVID-19 pandemic as something he has never seen in a career of over six decades.

Dr. Coovadia, now retired at 80, was speaking from his residence in Durban after the launch of the 7th edition of his seminal textbook ‘Paediatrics and Child Health’, 37 years after he first published it.

“Coronaviruses have been around for a long time, but I’ve never seen a disease like COVID-19,” Coovadia told the weekly Saturday Independent as he confirmed that both he and his wife Dr Zubie Hamed have been vaccinated against the deadly virus. According to Johns Hopkins University tracker, the number of confirmed cases in South Africa are 1,557,527 and 53,256 people have died.

Internationally acknowledged for his groundbreaking research in HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child, Coovadia said COVID-19 in children was mostly mild, but could be worse if there were other underlying conditions such as tuberculosis.

Coovadia’s research, which focused on the subject of breastfeeding reduced transmission of HIV/AIDS infections to children from 40 mothers per 100 births to just one per hundred.

“Mother to child transmission has almost been wiped out,” he said, citing the antiretroviral drugs now available.

Commenting on the latest edition of the book, published by Oxford University Press, Coovadia told the weekly: “Back in 1984, all the (medical) books we had were British. There was no textbook in the developing world, which particularly addressed the problems of children in Southern Africa.

“That was the impetus to start writing, but I have to highlight it was a team effort and I collated research from many friends and colleagues from different universities,” he said.

The only major changes to the book are subjects such as drugs, which have changed over the years, Coovadia said.

After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Natal, Coovadia gained his medical degree in Bombay, where many of his peers at the time went to study medicine due to the highly limited positions for this at South African universities. Apartheid-era quota systems gave most of the positions at universities to the minority white community.

After further studies in the UK, Coovadia returned home to rapidly rise through the ranks at his Alma Mater until his retirement, doing what he said he loved most – teaching students.

In a previous interview with , Coovadia explained that it was during his student years in India that his political activism was awakened.

He became active in the struggle against apartheid upon his return, participating in the preliminary discussions and negotiations at the Congress for a Democratic South Africa, the precursor of final negotiations, which led to Nelson Mandela being installed as the country’s first democratically elected President.

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