HIV/AIDS re­searcher ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ized’ his field

Mon­trealer who iden­ti­fied an­tivi­ral drug in 1989 dies in in­ci­dent on Mi­ami-area beach


MON­TREAL— A pioneering Cana­dian re­searcher and ac­tivist in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Dr. Mark Wain­berg, has died af­ter an in­ci­dent at a Florida beach Tues­day.

Po­lice in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Bal Har­bour, near Mi­ami, said they re­sponded to an emer­gency call at the beach in­volv­ing Wain­berg, the di­rec­tor of the McGill Univer­sity AIDS Cen­tre, about 2:40 p.m.

“What we learned is that the gen­tle­man was in the wa­ter with his son. His son lost sight of his fa­ther. He swam over to where he had seen his fa­ther, lo­cated him and be­gan to swim back to shore,” said Bal Har­bour’s act­ing chief, Capt. Mike De La Rosa.

Sev­eral other peo­ple at the beach helped get Wain­berg, 71, out of the wa­ter and first re­spon­ders be­gan ad­min­is­ter­ing first aid. A spokesper­son with the Mi­ami-Dade Fire and Rescue said Wain­berg was un­con­scious and not breath­ing when he was trans­ported to hos­pi­tal.

De La Rosa said there were rough con­di­tions in the ocean on Tues­day and there were red warn­ing flags flown on the beach.

Mi­ami-Dade County’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner, Dr. Emma Lew, said in re­sponse to an email that the cause of Wain­berg’s death — drown­ing or med­i­cal emer­gency — has been de­ter­mined, but she could not pro­vide de­tails be­cause her of­fice was closed for the day.

Wain­berg was in­ducted into Canada’s Med­i­cal Hall of Fame in 2016.

“Com­bin­ing sci­en­tific ex­cel­lence with a so­cial con­science on a global scale, Dr. Wain­berg’s re­search and col­lab­o­ra­tions are ac­knowl­edged as hav­ing helped save mil­lions of lives,” his ci­ta­tion read.

The Mon­treal na­tive was lauded for his in­volve­ment in iden­ti­fy­ing an an­tivi­ral drug, lamivu­dine, in 1989. The drug, also known as 3TC, now plays a cen­tral role in the treat­ment of HIV.

Wain­berg served as pres­i­dent of the in­ter­na­tional AIDS So­ci­ety from 1998 to 2000 and helped bring at­ten­tion to the spread of the dis­ease in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries where pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures and anti-HIV drugs were un­avail­able or in­ac­ces­si­ble.

“Dr. Wain­berg, work­ing with his na­tional and in­ter­na­tional col­leagues, has sig­nif­i­cantly ad­vanced the day when AIDS may be fi­nally erad­i­cated,” reads his ci­ta­tion from the Med­i­cal Hall of Fame. “In that hope, shared by the world, he con­tin­ues his pro­foundly im­por­tant work.”

It was with an ac­tivist’s hat that he took to the mi­cro­phones in 2006 when Toronto hosted the 16th an­nual In­ter­na­tional AIDS Con­fer­ence and chas­tised Canada’s newly elected prime min­is­ter, Stephen Harper, for skip­ping the event.

“Mr. Harper, you have made a mis­take that puts you on the wrong side of his­tory,” Wain­berg, co-chair of the meet­ing, said at the time. The con­dem­na­tion came af­ter Wain­berg had re­port­edly sent more than 20 emails re­quest­ing the Con­ser­va­tive party leader’s at­ten­dance, only to hear back in a voice­mail from a ju­nior of­fi­cial in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice that Harper was de­clin­ing to at­tend, ac­cord­ing to a pro­file of Wain­berg by McGill Univer­sity’s alumni mag­a­zine.

Dr. Ben­jamin Young, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of the Washington-based In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Providers of AIDS Care, wrote on Face­book that he was “heart­bro­ken.” “Mark Wain­berg was a ground­break­ing HIV scholar (one of the dis­cov­er­ers of drug re­sis­tance), for­mer pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional AIDS So­ci­ety, close friend, con­fi­dant, and men­tor. His sud­den and un­timely pass­ing leaves a huge void. Rest in peace, my friend.”

There were also mes­sages of con­do­lence from the Cana­dian AIDS So­ci­ety, from fel­low re­searchers and from ac­tivists alike.

Ni­co­las Cha­tel-Lau­nay, a mas­ter’s stu­dent of plant sci­ence at McGill Univer­sity and a mem­ber of Rain­bow Mac, a group for queer stu­dents, said Wain­berg’s dis­cov­er­ies were all the more praise­wor­thy be­cause they came in the face of great so­cial stigma that caused many sci­en­tists to fo­cus their ef­forts else­where.

“I’m not sure if the younger LGBT

“Dr. Wain­berg’s re­search and col­lab­o­ra­tions are ac­knowl­edged as hav­ing helped save mil­lions of lives.”


gen­er­a­tion is re­ally aware, but maybe gay men in their 40s and 50s now would feel more for him,” he said.

“I don’t have AIDS but I have a few friends who do and it doesn’t have the same mean­ing that it might have had in an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion where you would have lost friends or gone to the hos­pi­tal to see friends die.”

One Que­bec City-based ad­vo­cacy group, Al­liance Arc-en-ciel de Québec, was among many who paid trib­ute to Wain­berg.

“This great sci­en­tist rev­o­lu­tion­ized the re­search world by putting aside his per­sonal judg­ments to at­tack a se­ri­ous prob­lem that was eat­ing away at our com­mu­nity. Thank you Mon­sieur Wain­berg.”

Dr. Mark Wain­berg won an award at the 15th an­nual In­ter­na­tional AIDS Con­fer­ence in Thai­land. The fol­low­ing year the con­fer­ence was held in Toronto, where he be­rated prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper.

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