After medical school, Linda-Gail Bekker was sure she wanted to specialise in geriatrics. Working as a young doctor in a rural hospital in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, she even galvanised the local community to set up an old age home. “I was absolutely sure I was living my dream looking after these old folks”, she says. Then, in the late 1990s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic broke out. There was “just HIV everywhere, with morbidity and mortality everywhere. I started to count people; this number of people are dying, these are the people I can’t help”, she recalls. “I was very frustrated with myself that I couldn’t stop what felt like a barrage of death.” Her drive to understand what was happening led her to specialise in infectious diseases, launching a career in HIV and tuberculosis research, activism, and leadership now spanning more than 20 years. Bekker is the Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, and Chief Research Officer of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation. She is a past president of the International AIDS Society (2016–18).