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World-renowned AIDS researcher Dr. Mark Wainberg dies suddenly

mark

When I moved to Montreal, Dr. Mark Wainberg was researching AIDS drugs, like he had in decades past. I was one of his test patients at the Montreal General. Every drug that came out of his lab, went through Doctor Chris (my doctor today) and people like me, for the drugs to get to the world market.

I mourn his passing.

Dr. Mark is directly connected to my life as I live it today.

One of Canada’s leading AIDS researchers has died suddenly in Florida.

Dr. Mark Wainberg was in a Miami suburb with family on Tuesday when he had difficulty while swimming.

According to the Bal Harbour Police Department, his son noticed Dr. Wainberg was missing, swam out to where he was last seen, and brought him to shore.

“The victim had been in the water with his son, his son had lost sight of him. He didn’t know where his father was, so he swam out to where he had last seen his father – was able to retrieve him and swam back to shore with him,” said Acting Chief Mike De La Rosa.

“Other beachgoers assisted in bringing the victim onto the beach which is when we arrived. After fire-rescue was treating the victim, he was transported to hospital.”

Firefighters continued performing CPR as Dr. Wainberg was taken to hospital, where he died.

Acting Chief Mike De La Rosa could not confirm if Dr. Wainberg drowned or had some other medical condition that led to his death.

Groundbreaking research

Dr. Wainberg was a world-renowned researcher who began his work on HIV/AIDS in the 1980s

His group discovered that 3TC, also known as Epivir and lamivudine, was effective in treating HIV.

As the founder and director of the McGill University AIDS Centre, and the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital, he oversaw research into HIV and AIDS in conjunction with dozens of scientists and several companies, including BioChem Pharma.

He co-chaired the International AIDS conference in 1984, and went on to become the president of the International AIDS Society from 1998 to 2000.

He also organized the 13th International Congress on AIDS in South Africa.

Wainberg frequently lobbied for more funding and more education about HIV and AIDS — which is one reason he chose South Africa as a place to hold an international conference.

Friends and colleagues said Dr. Wainberg was fantastic about encouraging people in their research.

“Thirty-five years after the discovery of AIDS and Dr. Wainberg would talk about AIDS like it was the first days,” said Dr. Rejean Thomas.

“He would transfer his passion to colleagues, to young doctors.”

Dr. Thomas said Dr. Wainberg spoke last week at a conference in Montreal, and told him he had no plans to retire.

“Working hard with passion, that would describe him. And doing for the patients, first thing, doing for the patients,” said Dr. Thomas.

His recent work focused on trying to cure HIV infection and working on different strains of the disease and their drug resistance.

Dr. Wainberg said the world should also spend more money on getting antiviral drugs to the estimated 7 million people living with AIDS in the world who cannot afford treatment.

International recognition

In 2001 Dr. Wainberg was named to the Order of Canada, and made an officer of the National Order of Quebec in 2005.

He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2000, and in 2008 was named a Chevalier of France’s Legion d’honneur.

Wainberg is also known for advocating to change a controversial policy in Canada that barred all gay men from donating blood.

In a 2010 article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Wainberg and his co-authors suggested the policy should be modified to allow gay men in long-term, monogamous relationships to donate blood.

Two years ago Dr. Wainberg was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the understanding of HIV/AIDS at the medical and political levels.

Born in 1945, Dr. Wainberg would have turned 72 on April 21.