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One woman to celebrate on International Women's Day: Flossie Wong-Staal

By guest writer Georgia Cohoon

International Women’s Day – the day when we appreciate how amazing we are. Women of all types too – cisgender, transgender, and everything in between. We should be so proud of who we are and the things we achieve every single day. What better way to celebrate than looking at one of the coolest women in the world?

There are so many females I could talk about. So many women that inspire me to achieve my goals every single day, women I am in awe of. However, if I was to talk about every single woman in this world past and present that inspires me, it would be impossible; I would be talking about every female that has ever existed in the human race.

One particularly badass woman I have had the pleasure of reading about is Flossie Wong-Staal.

Image by The National Institutes of Health, Public Domain

This woman has achieved a lot of things in her life. Looking into her early life, Dr Wong-Staal and her family fled from China to Hong-Kong during the Chinese communist revolution. She went to a Catholic school in Hong-Kong, excelled in science and proceeded to move to America, aged 18, to study Bacteriology at the University of California. She then obtained a PhD in molecular biology at this University, where she stayed to continue her research.

As if these achievements aren’t incredible alone, Dr Wong-Staal became the first scientist to clone HIV and determine the function of its genes, a major step in proving that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

I don’t know if you’ve seen ‘It’s a Sin’, but the HIV pandemic was horrific. Not only were people all over the world dying from unknown causes, but the shame that came with the disease formed a blanket of discrimination over the gay community.

The gay community were already being subjected to homophobia across the globe. Now, with this new disease, they were literally being shamed for having romantic sexual relationships; even when these relationships lead to death.

Eradicating this illness or at least developing a treatment was of upmost importance. This is why Dr Wong-Staal’s achievement of cloning HIV was so incredible. This led to development of blood tests for HIV, and thus the eventual development of HIV treatment which is still used today.

HIV is no longer a death sentence. It is so incredible to write that statement.

HIV is no longer a death sentence. I could not make this statement if it was not for the work of Dr Wong Staal, and for this, I and others will forever be grateful for her determination.

Dr Wong-Staal died on July 8, 2020, from a pneumonia infection. She was 73 years old.

Dr Wong-Staal is just one of the reasons we celebrate International Women’s Day. I am so proud to be part of a community that fights back, even when the odds aren’t always in our favour.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

About the author:

‘"I'm Georgia, I’m 21 years old and I am at Newcastle University studying Dietetics. In my spare time I have been teaching myself Spanish on Duolingo, so when we can travel again I am hoping to take myself off to Spain to practice! Gracias!"


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