Lerato Mohapi

lerato mohapiIf you get as many people as possible tested and treated that’s prevention as well...

“One idea is that if you get as many people as possible tested and treated that’s prevention as well. It’s not just for the individual. You are going to bring down the levels of the virus in the community. Even if a lot of people are infected, if they’re virally suppressed their chances of spreading the virus become that much smaller. That will turn the tide, because where is the virus going to go? That’s a little bit of a pipe dream but one can always dream.”

- Dr. Lerato Mohapi,
Director, Adult Clinical Trials,
Treatment and Care Programme

Lerato Mohapi, BsC, MBBCh
Director, Adult Clinical Trials, Treatment and Care Programme

Lerato Mohapi grew up in Lesotho, the child of schoolteachers. “Looking back, we actually had very little but I never felt like we had very little. We always had people in the house. My uncles and aunts, they would have kids and send their kids from the villages to stay with us in Maseru to go to school.” But, as Lerato explains, it wasn’t just cousins. Having heard of her father, strangers would appear at their door wanting to stay with the family and attend school. Mohapi’s father would take them in. “My father took education very seriously.”

Growing up Mohapi didn’t have dreams of becoming a doctor. “I wanted to be an astronaut! We used to talk about the stars. I still remember we had this book that showed the universe, the stars, the planets, and I used to be so fascinated at the pictures thinking, ‘Ah! I want to go there!’” But, in the end, another universe was waiting for her.

After living for a year in the US with her sister, Mohapi attended the University of Newfoundland in Canada. Once she earned her BsC she returned to Africa to attend medical school in Liberia. “I was there for a week and then they had a coup so the medical school basically fell apart and I had to leave.” She would eventually resume her studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa where she met Glenda Gray and James McIntyre.

It was Gray who convinced Mohapi to take her first job in HIV, managing a new community-based HIV and STI outreach programme working with commercial sex workers, youth and the gay community. “HIV was pretty new in those days, it was 1990. We didn’t have drugs so basically it was education. We used to go into nightclubs, into brothels, we used to go on the street where the sex workers were hanging out and to escort agencies.” After seven years with the programme, Mohapi joined PHRU in 1997 to help start their HIV treatment trials division. She’s been there ever since.

Now, as PHRU’s Director of Adult Clinical Trials, Treatment and Care Programme, Dr. Mohapi directs the Adult Treatment Access Programme and oversees PHRU’s adult clinical trials. Since starting with PHRU, Mohapi has been involved in over thirty clinical trials, acting as principal investigator for the majority of them. Discussing the work she does at PHRU, she reflects, “At the end of the day, whether it’s treatment as antiretrovirals with three drugs or PrEP, I think antiretrovirals really are going to play a huge role in both treatment and prevention. So we need to look at it holistically not, ‘We’re just doing treatment’ or ‘We’re just doing prevention’. And then there are obviously things like circumcision, vaccines and microbicides. We’re basically attacking it from all angles. We still have a long way to go but I think we’re definitely making strides.”

Site Leader, Division of AIDS (DAIDS) funded clinical trials group

BSc, Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada
MBBCh (Medical Degree), University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

PHRU now offers free medical male circumcision (MMC). MMC is 50 to 60 percent effective at preventing HIV in men.
Read stories about the impact of PHRU's work in our latest report, PHRU's 2010 Review.