Zimbabwe: Top Researcher, Humble Giant Dies

3 February 2021

Agric, & Innovations Editor

Tributes are being paid to world-renowned HIV researcher Professor David Katzenstein for his unrelenting fight against HIV, tuberculosis and passion for improved access to ARVs by the majority of the poor in Africa.

An infectious diseases researcher, Prof Katzenstein died on January 24 in Harare from Covid -- related complications.

Colleagues and many in the medical fraternity paid tribute to him for dedicating his life to finding HIV prevention solutions for people in sub Saharan Africa, which is the hardest hit in terms of the HIV pandemic.

Director general of the Biomedical Research and Training Institute (BRTI), Dr Shungu Munyati said the death of Prof David Katzenstein was a huge loss at a time when the world needed his expertise most.

"We have lost today a giant in the global scientific community," she said. "However, it is not the end as we will always remember his passion and love for sciences.

"We will carry his legacy with pride. He touched many people all over the world in a special way and today the local and global scientific and non-scientific communities are remembering him with tributes as he very well deserved."

Upon his retirement from Stanford University in 2016, Prof Katzenstein joined the BRTI as the principal investigator of the Zimbabwe ICT Project (ZIP), project director for CBART project and director of the HIV Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory.

He actively mentored researchers in Zimbabwe in clinical and laboratory biomedical and social sciences at the University of Zimbabwe.

In collaboration with the African Institute for Biomedical Science and Technology (AIBST), he trained laboratory scientists leading to Masters and PhD degrees for young African scientists.

In April 2020, BRTI with Prof Katzenstein as the principal investigator was awarded a five-year HIV training grant administering PhD and post-doctoral fellowships focussing on community-based HIV research training in bio-informatics, drug resistance and pathogenesis (manner of a development of a disease).

"He loved Zimbabwe where he directed research and training programs in HIV pathogenesis, antiretroviral treatment, opportunistic infection and drug resistance in Zimbabwe for more than 30 years," Dr Munyati said.

"In 2005, he joined the late Professor Peter Mason in the African Programme for Training in HIV/TB Research Fogarty International Centre/NIH 2 U2R TW006878 where he was the international collaborating partner based at Stanford University.

"This programme ran for 10 years and during that time Prof Katzenstein was instrumental in facilitating the exchange programme for our local scientists to travel to the US -- mainly Stanford University as part of capacity building and technology transfer."

There was an outpouring of grief as the medical fraternity paid tribute to the eminent HIV researcher with many describing his death as a huge blow to the entirety of the healthcare sector and the global fight against HIV/Aids.

"The loss is quite unimaginable," said Dr Junior Mutsvangwa, a microbiologist and colleague in the research fraternity. Prof David Katzenstein, was a rare, selfless and very passionate scientific research giant and mentor. It has been extremely hard to come to terms that you are no more.

"An unwavering lifetime academic/professional mentor without whose effort most of us would never have been where we are. It was a rare opportunity having such a humble great mind like you, around my professional life."

Said Dr Julie Parsonnet, who once worked with Prof Katzenstein at Stanford University: "Prof Katzenstein was a world leader in HIV research and humanitarian work. He died of Covid in his adopted and beloved home -- Harare, Zimbabwe.

A great life, a great man and a great loss.

"A great loss for the scientific community. David will be remembered by all of us working in the HIV field," said Dr Silvia Bertagnolio of the World Health Organisation.

Added Dr Seth Inzaule of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC): "You were a great pillar to many, a giant in the field, yet so humble and down to earth. Invaluable virtues that we only hope to emulate. It's a huge loss and hard to internalise and we will greatly miss you Prof."

Prof Katzenstein was a champion in the fight against the HIV epidemic and played an eminent role in the fight to achieve zero new HIV infections.

He was born on January 3, 1952 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. He did his medical training and residency at the University of California San Diego, School of Medicine where he obtained a fellowship in infectious diseases in 1981.

From 1986 -- 1987, he worked as a lecturer at the Department of Medical Microbiology at UZ, while from 1989, he was a professor of medicine, Stanford University, USA.

Prof Katzenstein published many seminal papers on antiretroviral therapy that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and many other journals.

He won several awards and authored hundreds of scientific papers, in collaboration with investigators from around the world. He is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren.

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