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AIDS treatment champion recognised

- By Wits University

Wits University has conferred an honorary doctorate on Dr Brian Brink in recognition of his role in ensuring that business and the government provide antiretroviral therapy, at a time when HIV/AIDS was a taboo and killing thousands of lives.

The Doctor of Medicine degree was awarded to Brink on 11 December at the Faculty of Health Sciences’ graduation ceremony.

Reading a citation, the Dean of Health Sciences, Professor Martin Veller said: “Dr Brink, a Wits graduate, deserves his alma mater’s recognition for his far-sighted and courageous persistence in leading the way in a matter of great humane and political importance.”

Brink was one of the doctors who dealt with the first known HIV infected patients in South Africa – at the time there were just over 30 and they were all white gay men.

However, the discovery of HIV infected mineworkers a year later in 1986 and its prevalence signalled a crisis that was to usher in a period of ineffective government response leading to unnecessary deaths.

Brink, as the group medical consultant at Anglo American where, together with Mr Bobby Godsell, played a strategic role in introducing free anti-retroviral therapy (ART) to the company’s employees.

As a result of “the efforts of Dr Brink, two of the country’s largest companies, Anglo American and AngloGold initiated programmes that saved many thousands of lives, brought credit on the companies, and most importantly, set an example for the state health service to follow once the resistance of government leadership to ART had been overcome. Indeed, the vision and leadership of Brian Brink almost certainly played a central part in breaking down that (government) resistance,” reads the citation praising Brinks’ efforts.

After his capping by the Wits Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, Brink took to the podium to deliver an address to the graduating health practitioners.

In his speech he shared the history of the virus in South Africa, the struggles fought by doctors and activists to force government to recognise and provide treatment to its people. Many of these efforts were led by Witsies.

“Government-led denialism on AIDS and its opposition to treatment was an embarrassment and shame to all of us who were desperately trying to halt the rampage of AIDS,” said Brink.

 In 2004 the government finally succumbed to the unrelenting pressure.

In accepting the honorary doctorate, Brink said: “I am deeply honoured and equally humbled to be receiving an honorary doctorate today. Whilst I may have made a contribution to improving the health of those most in need, I am very much aware that what I have been able to achieve is the product of the sustained efforts of many people.

 This is an honour and recognition that I wish to share with all those that have been part of the fight against AIDS and ultimately the right to health for all our people.  In particular I think of all the health care workers on the front line who work day and night and are so often taken for granted.  And most importantly, the people living with HIV, who have shown the greatest courage and determination of all.”

To the graduates, he asked that they use their education to promote fairness and justice in society. 

“Understand that education is fundamental to the realisation of health. Remember that public health is part of your responsibility”.

Click here to read his, and for his speech .