About Us
The HIV/AIDS & Global Health Research Programme comprises a multidisciplinary team of investigators drawn from Univen, other institutions and the community to seek solutions to biomedical, social and behavioural problems with national and international relevance.


To become a reference programme in South Africa for global health research and human capital development.


To conduct high quality research relevant to policy development and practice; and to train the next generation of researchers with a global perspective.

HAGH acknowledges support from the following institutions and networks:

Director's Profile
Pascal O. Bessong is a virologist, and an experienced professor with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education sector for more than 17 years. His research focuses on microbiological investigations for translational science and global health, using innovative approaches and technologies. Specifically, he is interested on viral and human determinants of HIV drug resistance and the sustainability of antiretrovirals towards the UNAIDS 2030 target on viral suppression. He is also interested in the interactions of gut microbiota and antimicrobial resistance, and the interactions of gut infections with growth, cognitive development, and vaccine response in young children. He has more than 15 years of experience in the establishment and maintenance of prospective, community-based birth and adult cohorts for observational biomedical investigations.

A former Head of the Department of Microbiology, University of Venda, he is the Principal Investigator of the AIDS Virus Research Laboratory; Founding Head of the HIV/AIDS & Global Health Research Programme; Visiting Scholar at the School of Medicine, University of Virginia, USA; and Director of the SAMRC-UNIVEN Unit on Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research. Professor Bessong is a C1 rated scientist of the National Research Foundation (2017); an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa; a Registered Natural Professional Scientist; and Associate Editor of the South African Journal of Science (Cell, molecular biology, and Health). He maintains a website and blog at https://bessongthemicrobiologist.com

Professor Bessong’s has published his scientific contributions and opinions in top tier and influential journals such as Science, The Lancet HIV, PLOS Medicine, Lancet Global Health, Clinical Infectious Diseases, BMJ Global Health, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, EBiomedicine, and Bulletin of the World Health Organization. He has hosted visiting scientists on antimicrobial resistance within the framework of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship awards, and the US National Science Foundation fellowships. He has given research seminars at institutions in South Africa, Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and the United States. Professor Bessong has successfully trained more than 60 MSc/PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.

Professor Bessong’s research profile can be viewed at:

Orcid: Pascal Bessong (0000-0003-0561-272X) – ORCID
Google scholar: ‪Pascal O. Bessong, PhD, mASSAf – ‪Google Scholar
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Pascal-Bessong
PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=bessong


Tel: 015 962 8301

Email: bessong@univen.ac.za

Selected recent publications

  1. George Gachara, Tshifhiwa Magoro, Lufuno Mavhandu, Emmaculate Lum, Helen Kimbi, Roland N. Ndip, Pascal O. Bessong (2017). Characterization of Occult Hepatitis B Infection among HIV positive patients in Cameroon.  AIDS Research and Therapy 14:11; doi 10.1186/s12981-017-0136-0.
  2. George Gachara, Lufuno Mavhandu, Elizabeth Rogawski, Cecile Manhaeve; Pascal O. Bessong (2017). Evaluating adherence to antiretroviral therapy using pharmacy refill records in a rural treatment site in South Africa (AIDS Research and Treatment, doi.org/10.1155/2017/5456219).
  3. Cristina Redko, Pascal Bessong, David Burt, Max Luna, Samuel Maling, Christopher Moore, Faustin Ntirenganya, Alison N. Martin, Robin Petroze, Julia den Hartog, April Ballard, Rebecca Dillingham (2016). Exploring the significance of bi-directional learning for global health Education. Annals of Global Health, doi: 10.1016/j.aogh.2016.11.008.
  1. Tshifhiwa Magoro, George Gachara, Lufuno Mavhandu, Emmaculate Lum, Helen K. Kimbi, Roland N. Ndip, Pascal Bessong. Serologic and genotypic characterization of hepatitis B virus in HIV-1 infected patients from South West and Littoral Regions of Cameroon. Virology Journal 2016, 13:78, doi 1186/s12985-016-0636-x.
  2. Pascal Bessong, Benson Iweriebor. A putative HIV-1 subtype C/CRF11_cpx recombinant from South Africa. SpringerPlus 2016, 5:285, doi: 10.1186/s40064-016-1924-z.
  3. Ayukenchengamba Bate, Helen K. Kimbi, Emmaculate Lum, Leopold G. Lehman, Elias F. Onyoh, Lucy M. Ndip, Conica M. Njabi, Calvin Tonga, Godlove B.Wempnje, Roland N. Ndip, and Pascal O. Bessong. Malaria infection and anaemia in HIV-infected children in Mutengene, Southwest Cameroon: a cross sectional study. BMC Infectious Diseases 2016, doi: 1186/s12879-016-1853-z.
  4. Soo-Yon Rhee, Jose Luis Blanco, Michael R. Jordan, Jonathan Taylor, Philippe Lemey, Vici Varghese, Raph L. Hamers, Silvia Bertagnolio, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Avelin F. Aghokeng, Jan Albert, Radko Avi, Santiago Avila-Rios, Pascal O. Bessong, James I. Brooks, Zabrina L. Brumme et al. Geographic and Temporal Trends in the Molecular Epidemiology and Genetic Mechanisms of Transmitted HIV-1 Drug Resistance: an Individual Patient and Sequence-level Meta-Analysis. PLoS Medicine 2015 Apr 7; 12(4):e1001810. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001810.
  5. Platts-Mills JA, Babji S, Bodhidatta L, Gratz J, Haque R, Havt A, McCormick BJ, McGrath M, Olortegui MP, Samie A, Shakoor S, Mondal D, Lima IF, Hariraju D, Rayamajhi BB, Qureshi S, Kabir F, Yori PP, Mufamadi B, Amour C, Carreon JD, Richard SA, Lang D, Bessong P, Mduma E, Ahmed T, Lima AA, Mason CJ, Zaidi AK, Bhutta ZA, Kosek M, Guerrant RL, Gottlieb M, Miller M, Kang G, Houpt ER; MAL-ED Network Investigators (2015). Pathogen-specific burdens of community diarrhoea in developing countries: a multisite birth cohort study (MAL-ED). Lancet Global Health 3(9):e564-75 doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(15)00151-5.
  6. Tracy M. Masebe, Pascal O. Bessong, Roland N. Ndip, Debra Meyer (2014). Genetic variants of APOC3 promoter and HLA-B genes in an HIV infected cohort in northern South Africa-A pilot study. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 15, 11403-1415:doi:10.3390/ijms.
  7. Pascal Obong Bessong, Emanuel Nyathi, Tjale Cloupas Mahopo, and Vhonani Netshandama, MAL-ED South Africa. Development of the Dzimauli Community in Vhembe District, Limpopo Province of South Africa, for the MAL-ED Cohort Study. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2014, 59 (suppl 4): S317-S324 doi:10.1093/cid/ciu418.
  8. Pascal Obong Bessong, Julius Nwobegahay. Genetic analysis of HIV-1 integrase sequences from treatment naive Individuals in northeastern South Africa. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 2013, 14(3):5013-24.doi: 10.3390/ijms14035013.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Research Thrusts” tab_id=”1491313339316-2937218f-912b”][vc_column_text]Sustainability of first line combination antiretroviral therapy

Biologic and psychosocial determinants of resistance development to combination antiretroviral therapy (cART); treatment outcomes; molecular epidemiology, viral fitness; viral inhibition assays, pharmacogenomics; intestinal microbiome in HIV/AIDS.

Malignancy associated viruses

Molecular genetics of KSHV, HPV and HBV/HCV; innate immunity; implications for vaccine design.

Malnutrition and Enteric Diseases (MAL-ED)

This is an observational prospective study looking at the interaction of enteric infections and malnutrition and the consequences on child growth and development. Children recruited, soon after birth, are followed up for 60 months on childhood disease surveillance, intestinal infections, vaccination history, dietary patterns, anthropometrics and cognitive development. It is a community-based study carried out in the Dzimauli area in northern Limpopo Province. The MAL-ED Network comprises eight sites including Brazil, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa and Tanzania. It is founded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health as primary grantee (www.mal-ed.fnih.org).


Expression and biophysical characterization of HIV-1 subtype C enzymes; pre-clinical HIV inhibitory evaluation of substances.

Dr Angelina Maphula, Adherence to cART; cognitive development
Email angelina.maphula@univen.ac.za

Dr Denis Tebit, HIV molecular virology

Emanuel Nyathi, Public Health/Data management
Email: emanuel.nyathi@univen.ac.za

Prof Amidou Samie, Enterics

Professors Hammarskjöld and Rekosh, HIV/AIDS, U. Virginia

Human Capital Development
Training Opportunities
National Annual Gene Expression and Biotechnology Training Course

This course began in 2010 and is now an annual hands-on two-week intensive training course for junior and mid-level postgraduate students. The course is delivered in partnership with the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology of the University of Virginia (USA). Students are selected through an application process. About 120 students from more than 12 different universities have so far benefited from the course. The course has three components: lectures, problem solving and small group discussions, and laboratory based practical sessions. Topics covered include:

  • Genes, Gene Expression and Genomics
  • RNA Polymerases and their Roles in Gene Expression
  • The Genetic Code and Protein Synthesis
  • Mechanism and Control of Translation
  • mRNA Transcription and Processing
  • Post-transcriptional Regulation of Gene Expression
  • Non Coding RNAs and RNA Editing
  • HIV as a genetic system
  • Molecular biology applications in health and agriculture

The hands on laboratory training sessions cover:

  • Polymerase chain reaction (end point and real-time)
  • Restriction digestion, Cloning
  • Protein expression and purification
  • Tissue culture
  • Transfection and infection
  • Sequence editing and bioinformatics

The course is currently supported by the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa.

Global Infectious Diseases Research Training Program

In partnership with the University of Virginia, and funded by Fogarty International Center/NIH, this program provides one year research fellowships for 4 University of Venda doctoral students at the University of Virginia each year. Students are hosted by reputable laboratories to supplement their research experience and perspective.

WHIL Innovations Fellowships

This programme is designed to train junior faculty (doctorate holders) to gain skills and technical know-how necessary to begin an independent research career. Fellows are recruited annually in South Africa and the US for one year mentoring at the University of Venda and at the University of Virginia. The programme is supported by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health (USA).[/vc_column_text][/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Research and Training Facilities” tab_id=”1491313500677-96dcae75-2fcf”][vc_column_text]Key instrumentation and equipment are available for use by faculty and graduate students of Univen and external collaborators. These include:

  • Beckon Dickinson FACSPresto CD4 cell counter
  • Illumina MiniSeq platform
  • Ultracentrifuge (Sorval WX100)
  • Microbeta 2 counter (Perkin Elmer)
  • Light Cycler (Roche 480 II)
  • Luminometer (Promega)
  • Thermocyclers
  • Gel documentation (Syngene)
  • Microplate reader (Versamax)
  • Liquid nitrogen /ultra-low temperature storage
  • Biosafety level II facility
  • HPLC (Waters)
Community Engagement
Activities of the programme have led to sustained interactions and collaborations with the local communities and institutions such Dzimauli, Centre for Positive Care (Sibasa), and the HIV/AIDS Prevention Group (HAPG, Bela Bela: www.hapg.org.za).

Engagement with HAPG includes:

  • HIV treatment outcome studies
  • HIV prevention in adolescents
  • Community impact studies

Engagement with Dzimauli community include:

  • Education on mother and child care (infection, vaccination, and nutrition) through town-hall style meetings and focus group discussions.
Contact Us
Office courier address

Office FF172, Life Sciences Building

University of Venda, University Road

Thohoyandou 0950

South Africa.


Laboratory courier address

Attention: Lufuno Mavhandu (Mobile: 071 2933842)

Lab FF015, Life Sciences Building
University of Venda, University Road
Thohoyandou 0950
South Africa

Dr Lufuno Mavhandu-Ramarumo, Scientific Coordinator

Dr. Lufuno Mavhandu-Ramarumo obtained a doctorate in Microbiology specializing in molecular virology from the University of Venda in 2014. In the course of her postgraduate training she had research fellowships at the Myles H. Thaler Center for AIDS and Human Retrovirus Research, University of Virginia, USA and at J. Craig Venter Institute, Maryland USA. She has been the recipient of the Pfizer International Fellowship Initiative; bursary and mobility grant from the National Research Foundation, and the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative. In 2010, she was awarded the DST/TATA South African Women in Science Award, in the Young Scientist category. In 2015, she received training in grant management from the National Institutes of Health, USA.

Dr. Mavhandu-Ramarumo’s research interest is on molecular genetics with a focus on the molecular basis of HIV drug resistance and its implications on the efficacy and sustainability of first line antiretroviral therapy. She is also interested in the preclinical evaluation of compounds for anti HIV properties. She has co-authored several peer reviewed articles in reputable journals such AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, Archives of Virology, and South African Medical Journal. She is an awardee of the Thuthuka-NRF programme to investigate biomarkers of adherence to antiretrovirals, and to the phenotypic significance of observed but uncharacterized mutations that arise in HIV-1 subtype C upon drug exposure. She is the co-principal investigator of an MRC funded project on drug resistance in Limpopo Province.


Tel: 015 962 8962

Email: lufuno.mavhandu@univen.ac.za

Dr Lufuno Mavhandu-Ramarumo – Scientific Coordinator
Dr. Mavhandu-Ramarumo’s research interest is on molecular genetics with a focus on the molecular basis of HIV drug resistance and its implications on the efficacy and sustainability of first line antiretroviral therapy. She is also interested in the preclinical evaluation of compounds for anti HIV properties. She has co-authored several peer reviewed articles in reputable journals such AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, Archives of Virology, and South African Medical Journal.

Click here to view full profile
Professor Pascal Obong Bessong – Director – SAMRC-UNIVEN Unit on Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research
Professor Pascal Obong Bessong – Director – SAMRC-UNIVEN Unit on Antimicrobial Resistance and Global Health Research
His research focuses on microbiological investigations impacting on translational science and global health. Specifically, he is interested in host and viral determinants of HIV drug resistance and the sustainability of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART); the impact of HAART on the pathogenesis of malignancy associated viruses; and the interaction of enteric viruses, vaccine response, gut integrity, growth and development in young children, particularly in populations of low socio-economic status.

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