Wainberg died of an asthma attack that he suffered while swimming on Tuesday afternoon in Bal Harbour, Fla.
Acting Bal Harbour Police Chief Miguel De La Rosa confirmed Wainberg's death followed a swim in rough water, CBC News reported.
Wainberg was part of the medical team that discovered the first antiviral drug to treat patients with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
However, Dr. Wainberg did not limit himself to laboratory work.
Batist noted he had co-published a paper with Wainberg on the topic of cancer bio-markers and said it was an indication of his brilliance he was able to make contributions to fields outside his immediate expertise.
Dr. Wainberg, a life-long Montrealer, graduated from McGill University with a bachelor of science in 1966, then went on to complete a Ph.D. from Columbia University and do postdoctoral research at Hadassah Medical School of Hebrew University before returning to his alma mater, McGill.
A graduate of McGill University, Wainberg researched AIDS for almost 35 years. With the help of other beachgoers, they managed to pull Dr Wainberg's body from the water.
But Wainberg couldn't be revived and was later pronounced dead.
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.
Dr. Thomas said Dr. Wainberg spoke last week at a conference in Montreal, and told him he had no plans to retire.
He also organized the 13th International Congress on AIDS in South Africa. "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".
In 2015, Wainberg was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2015 "for having made the world a better place".