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Glenda Gray – Biography Of A South African HIV Vaccine Warrior

Glenda Gray

Glenda Gray is a South African professor, pediatrician, medical researcher, and HIV/AIDs activist. She is the President & CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (MRC). Also, she is the co-founder of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at the University of Witwatersrand.

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Internationally, Gray is known for her research in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), as well as the dedication of her life’s work in the search of a vaccine for HIV/AIDs. Also, her excellent life-saving research has changed and improved the quality of life of people in SA and abroad.

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Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don’t Have An Idea

Then, as a result of her passion and success so far, she was awarded the SA’s highest honor – Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) in 2013 and other unique awards.

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Glenda Gray

Glenda Gray Biography

Glenda Elisabeth Gray was born on 14 December 1962 in Boksburg, Gauteng South Africa. Her father was a miner and her mother, a bookkeeper. She was born as the fifth of six children and the family lived in a conservative poor area of South Africa.

At age six, Gray wanted to become a doctor. Also, she was active in the anti-apartheid movement where she campaigned to de-segregate South African hospitals. But later on, she channeled that strength into fighting the virus, HIV.

In 1980, Glenda attended the University of Witwatersrand Medical School and obtained her MBBCh. Also, she completed a Fellowship in Pediatrics and Child Health at the Colleges of Medicine in South Africa. Afterward, she worked as a medical officer at several South African hospitals. Some of which include; Coronation, Chris Hani Baragwanath and the Wits Department of Paediatric and Neonatology.

She is a mother of three. 2 daughters and a son. Glenda is married to Jacobus Kloppers, a renowned South African Artist.

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Glenda Gray Career

Glenda is a research professor of Pediatrics at the University of Witwatersrand and a director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto. She is the co-principal investigator and director of international programmes of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) – funded HIV Vaccine Clinical Trial Network.

She is also the site investigator for Project Accept, a large multi-study community randomised trial funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. An organisation that looks at the Impact of behavioral interventions in reducing HIV incidences.

Glenda Gray’s research has contributed significantly to the understanding of HIV. For instance, her research into post-exposure prophylaxis for PMTCT has led to the development of clinical guidelines that have been adopted internationally. She has also led the clinical development of SA’s first two HIV Vaccines; SAAVI DNA and MVA vaccines. Her research expertise involves developing microbicides for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV vaccines and HIV prevention.

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Glenda Gray


Glenda Gray is a member of several research bodies and medical institutes. Some of which are;

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Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days
  • Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and she chairs its standing committee on health
  • Foreign Associate of the United States Institute of Medicine
  • An A-rated National Research Foundation of South Africa scientist
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology
  • Executive director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU)
  • The editorial board member of the Journal of AIDs as well as AIDS Research and Treatment
  • Member of the OAVI Scientific Advisory Committee
  • Member of the Scripps CHAVI-ID Scientific Advisory Board

In addition, she has published more than 200 scientific articles especially in the field of HIV.

In 1999, she received a Fogarty Training Fellowship at Columbia University US and completed an intensive training programme on clinical epidemiology at Cornell University, USA.

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Awards and Recognition

  • Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights, along with James Mcintyre 2002
  • Co-recipient of the N’Galy-Mann Lectureship Award with McIntyre, 2009
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree, Simon Fraser University, 2012
  • Order of Mapungubwe (Silver), South Africa’s highest honor, 2013
  • Outstanding African Scientist Award, EDCTP, 2013
  • One of the 100 most influential people, Time Magazine, 2017
  • Honorary Doctorate in Laws (LLD.hc), Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 2019
  • One of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa, 2020
  • Hero of Medicine Award, International Association of Physicians in AIDs Care (IAPAC)
  • Femina Woman of Nineties Award for her contribution to perinatal HIV research.

See Also: Aya Chebbi – Biography Of An Award-Winning Pan African Feminist And Activist

Glenda Gray Quotes

“Being part of a team that finds an HIV Vaccine will be my greatest scientific accomplishment.”

“HIV pulled me into medical research from a clinician/pediatrician, revolving around young women and their children. It has in some ways enriched me and, in some ways, embattled my life.”

“Success means doing something that impacts on the lives of others. Success means impact, and means significance.”

“As a medical doctor and scientist, there are many problems to solve, find one that intrigues you and follow it relentlessly by doing research to answer that question.”

“Love your work so much that it’s easy to work at nights, on the weekends, and you would even do it for free.”

“If we are successful in South Africa, there will be bridging studies to anywhere in the world – to East Africa, the U.S., to young girls, to babies,”

“Every girl needs a father who’s a hero in some way or another.”

“If you ever feel unsafe, the best thing anyone can do for you is to put you in the spotlight.”

See Also: Clare Akamanzi – Biography And Life Of A Successful Leader

Lessons from the Life Of Glenda Gray

Define Your Success

First, to succeed in any particular field, you need to define what success is to you. To some, it is to create impact, to others, it is equated in monetary value, while to others, success means popularity. Everyone needs to come up with their own definition of success. It will be your drive.

Over the years, Glenda has realized what success means to her. For her, the only way to measure success is the impact you have on others. So, she does this through conducting medical research that improves lives or saves lives, mentoring, training and developing the next generation of scientists.

While following her definition of success, her work on mother-to-child transmission reduced the number of babies born with HIV to 150,000 from 6000,000 in a year.

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Glenda still works on discovering the vaccine and we can see from her work that she’s an optimist. According to her, “I am an optimist and a believer. I have great instincts when it comes to science to understand intuitively what to do.”

Even in moments of doubt, she dwells on self- reflection and appreciate what she has done in the past. This way, she has been able to set a standard, and look beyond her failures to achieve success. She is more passionate about finding an HIV Vaccine, and this is what drives her medical research to date.

Also, she is optimistic as the president of SAMRC, that she will train and deliver to her country the next generation of scientists, develop capacity and transform how science is being done, as well as who funds and the area it funds.

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