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Dr. Mervyn Susser: Obituary

Mervyn Susser

Dear Colleagues and friends

It is with great sadness that I inform you that Dr Mervyn Susser, our dear friend and colleague, passed away last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Zena Stein, their children and their families. Below is a short biography:

Dr Mervyn Susser and his wife, Dr Zena Stein were influenced as young South African medical students in the late 1940s by the work done by Sidney and Emily Kark in establishing a network of primary health centers in rural areas of Natal Province based on principles of comprehensive community care and preventive medicine. Following the Karks’ example, Zena and Mervyn made rigorous science and social justice the hallmarks of their work and their lives. Dr Susser, began his career in community and primary health care in Alexandra, South Africa. He later qualified as a member of the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh), and was recruited to the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at Manchester University, where he served as medical officer for Mental Health for the City of Salford. From 1966 through 1978, he was professor and head of Epidemiology, Columbia University Faculty of Health Sciences. In 1978, he founded the Sergievsky Center and served as Sergievsky Professor of Epidemiology until his retirement in 1990. In April 1990, having been impacted by the explosive beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, Mervyn and Zena were instrumental in organizing a conference in Maputo, Mozambique that brought together public health experts from inside South Africa, from the exile community and from the United States to focus on the possible impact of HIV on South Africa. As the political space in South Africa opened up in the years between Mandela’s release in 1990 and his election as President in 1994, Salim (Slim) Abdool Karim worked with Zena and Mervyn to submit the first successful application to Fogarty in 1993, with Zena as PI of the AITRP which has as its goal to build strategic, sustainable scientific capacity to enhance the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. The CU-SA AITRP was renewed in 2000 with Salim Abdool Karim as PI and was renewed a second time in 2005 with Quarraisha Abdool Karim as PI and is currently in its 20th year. Together with Zena Stein in 1999, Mervyn served as the joint director of the newly-founded Africa Centre for Population and Reproductive Health Research in a rural site in Kwazulu/Natal, South Africa. In 2002, an auditorium was dedicated to Mervyn Susser and Zena Stein at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, Hlabisa, KwaZulu Natal and in 2004, an auditorium in the Doris Duke Research Institute, Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal was dedicated to them. Up until 2009 Mervyn and Zena visited South Africa every year and spent time at CAPRISA interacting with past and current Fogarty and CAPRISA fellows. In January 2007, a symposium at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (CAPRISA) on HIV/AIDS was dedicated to the contributions of Mervyn Susser and Zena Stein.

Mervyn will be missed by friends, colleagues and family not just at CAPRISA, but throughout the world.

— Hamba Kahle Mervyn.

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