The award, introduced in 2012 and established by charitable organization Sense about Science and scientific journal, Nature, honors one or two individuals who have served to promote sound science and evidence despite hostility.
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, both Abdool Karim and Fauci used science, and their skills and expertize, to communicate scientific analysis and developments concerning the coronavirus to the public and to policymakers.
The pair have both played the role of advisor to their respective governments and are being recognized for the scientific advice that they have passed on to leaders.
Prof. Abdool Karim is an infectious disease epidemiologist and the director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research (CAPRISA) whose work in the study of HIV/AIDS alongside his wife, scientist Quarraisha Abdool Karim, has helped to guide South Africa through its HIV crisis and has earned them both international acclaim.
At the peak of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, Abdool Karim guided the public through the science of AIDS in a time when the South African government was in denial about the impact of the disease, and advocated for health care treatment for poor and vulnerable communities.
This year, Abdool Karim has worked closely with the South African government as chairperson of the COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee and has kept the public up to date on important developments that needed to be noted.
“He has a reputation for clear and honest communication, something that has allowed him to generate public trust in fast-moving science,” said the award organizers. “Respected for his international science advocacy, engaging with the media and the public has become integral to his role as a scientist.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States and has advised six presidents on the HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as other infectious diseases and global health issues.
As outgoing US President Donald Trump publicly criticized Dr. Fauci’s advisory earlier this year and even threatened to fire the infectious disease expert — leading a number of Americans to distrust the scientist — Fauci continued to share scientific developments and advice with the American public.
“Anthony Fauci is receiving the prize in recognition of his work to help the public understand both the science behind complex and controversial public health issues and how the nature of science influences government responses,” the award organizers said. “While other government scientists have avoided the spotlight, he has steadfastly responded to questions from the public.”
Nature editor-in-chief Magdalena Skipper explained that this year has revealed how important it is that science be communicated clearly and accurately.
“As many are confronted with confusing, contradictory, and sometimes even false information, leaders who are able to convey the important messages clearly can literally mean the difference between life and death,” she said.
Abdool Karim and Fauci accepted the award at a virtual prize giving that took place on Monday.
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