Around 2:30 p.m., Wainberg's son lost sight of his Dad who was swimming at Bal Harbour Beach.
Miguel De La Rosa, acting chief of the Bal Harbour Police Department in suburban Miami, said they responded to a 911 call on Tuesday after Dr. Wainberg was pulled unconscious from the water.
He was the first to identify the anti-viral drug Lamivudine that reduces the amount of HIV in the body by slowing down the damage the disease does to the body's immune system.
Former president of the International AIDS Society Professor Mark Wainberg, a fierce critic of former president Thabo Mbeki's views on the pandemic, has died. "Mark Wainberg was a giant in HIV science", Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, said in a press release.
"Other beachgoers assisted in bringing the victim onto the beach which is when we arrived". At the time of his death, he was the head of AIDS research at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital and the McGill University AIDS Centre.
Emergency responders performed CPR on Wainberg while he was rushed to hospital, where he died shortly thereafter.
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A friend of, and informal adviser to, UNAIDS for many years, he also served as the President of the International AIDS Society from 1998 to 2000.
"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. "The impact of his work both through and beyond his role with the IAS will live on through the millions of people accessing HIV treatment and those of us who were lucky enough to know him".
"I tried to save him and I could not", Zev Wainberg said.
He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 2008, Wainberg was named a Chevalier de Legion d'honneur, the highest honour given by France.