He was internationally renowned as part of the medical team that discovered the first antiviral drug to treat patients with HIV, and he is also celebrated for his contributions in the field of anti-HIV drug resistance that has helped save millions of lives. Wainberg, 71, was the director of the McGill University AIDS Centre at the Jewish General Hospital and professor of medicine, microbiology, and immunology at McGill University in Montreal. He became the first scientist in Canada to work directly on HIV, establishing the McGill AIDS Centre in 1984.
IDRC is fortunate to have collaborated with Wainberg twice on Global Health Research Initiative projects. He was the project leader of TanZamBo capacity building network for HIV/AIDS prevention research network (2010–2014), part of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, a collaboration between the Government of Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The main goal of TanZamBo was to build capacity in HIV prevention research in Tanzania, Zambia, and Botswana with the support of collaborators from McGill and Harvard. TanZamBo emphasized “learning by doing” to step up the capacity of young researchers to support efforts in HIV/AIDS prevention and control. Wainberg and his team members were actively engaged in mentoring African team members by providing updates on new and unanswered questions on HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention strategies, and potential research questions and direction for innovative research.
Wainberg was also co-investigator of Epidemiology of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and feasibility of the implementation of an HPV vaccine in Haiti (2010–2013), which sought to increase immunization coverage in Haiti by promoting a better understanding of immunization-related issues, encourage and support innovative approaches to improve immunization rates among hard-to-reach groups, and strengthen research capacity in Haiti. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer caused by human HPV accounts for half of cancer-related deaths in Haitian women. This project aimed to generate the evidence needed to establish basic infrastructure for an HPV vaccination program in the country.
Wainberg was the recipient of many prestigious accolades including the Order of Canada; officer of the National Order of Quebec; a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; a chevalier of France’s Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada; the 2012 Killam Prize for Health Science; and he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the understanding of HIV/AIDS at the medical and political levels.
He will be remembered as a scientific visionary and as a passionate advocate for HIV/AIDS care. He was often an outspoken critic of governments that he felt could do more to fight the disease, and he was committed to bringing medication into developing countries. IDRC and the entire research community mourn his loss, but the impact of his research will endure in the lives of the millions of people his research has helped.