NRF A-rated scientist, CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Professor Glenda Gray is a qualified paediatrician, co-founder of the internationally recognised Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto and is one of the experts on the Ministerial Advisory Committee, led by Professor Salim Abdool Karim, currently advising government on how to combat Covid-19. The committee includes professors from a variety of health, infectious diseases, epidemiology and other specialities.
We caught up with Glenda Gray and asked her for an update on COVID-19 in South Africa:
The news regarding the epidemic changes by the hour. Please give us the latest update on the epidemic – and the projections going forward. When do you think it will peak in SA?
As of the 23rd April, 143 570 COVID-19 tests have been done, with 3953 South Africans infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with 75 deaths. As winter begins we can expect to see a higher an increase in hospital admissions for both influenzae and COVID 19. We will experience the epidemic in winter, and hopefully towards spring, the epidemic will start to ease up.
What is your view on the incremental approach of easing the lockdown?
The risk adjusted strategy is the most sensible approach to both manage the epidemic in South Africa as well as open up the country for business. On Thursday night the President announced the phased approach, and indicated that we would move to level 4 at the end of the lock-down, which allows for some economic activity whilst still promoting heightened public health interventions.
How close is the global community to developing and trialling a vaccine?
There is an accelerated approach to bring a vaccine into clinical development with the promise of vaccine trials starting in the USA and Europe shortly. We hope that South Africa can become involved towards the end of 2020.
In your opinion, once someone has had the virus and recovered, will they have developed immunity?
People who have had the virus will develop immunity, however we are hearing reports of re-infection, so we still need to establish how long the immunity lasts and what the predisposing risks are for re-infection, and what the course of re-infection looks like. We are still trying to understand this epidemic, and the natural history of COVID 19, as the epidemic is really only about 5-6months old.
How do you relax?
I am listening to Bob Dylan, his early works, to relax. I am also re-reading one of his biographies. He takes me back to my childhood and my life as a young adult, and his lyrics are inspirational. I like my treadmill in the garage, and that sorts my head out, and calms me. Together with my daughters, we planted a vegetable patch, and I get great delight in eating the chillies grown in my own soil! I like to walk in my garden in the early morning with my tea and inspect the flowers and trees. I am learning the value of gardening which is something I have neglected all my life. I am also trying to do a puzzle on Van Gogh’s starry night, which is incredibly difficult but it triggers paths in my brain that do me good.
What are you reading?
I read a lot of news, all the time. But to quieten my mind I am reading a biography on Bob Dylan. I have also hauled out all my Salman Rushdie books, and have started re-reading The Golden House.
If you had an extra hour in the day how would you spend it?
I am trying to learn to have down time, walk in the garden with a cup of tea, and now more recently, spend 10-15 minutes attacking that puzzle sitting on my dining room table. I have put a chair on my balcony, and last night, with the new moon, Orion’s Belt was out in all its glory.