PhD (Clinical Immunology)


I am a Medical Scientist with the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and an Associate Professor in the Division of Medical Virology in the Institute for Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT.  I head the Mucosal Infections Group (MIG) at UCT and the HIV Mucosal Immunology laboratory at the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).


Since 2002, my research has focused on studying genital tract adaptive and innate immune responses associated susceptibility to sexually transmitted viral diseases including HIV and Human Papillomavirus. I am also a member of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) Mucosal Working Group, where my research aims at developing methods to investigate HIV-specific immunity in mucosal tissue including the female genital tract.


PhD (Molecular and Cell Biology)


I am a microbiologist with a background in molecular and cell biology.  I joined the MIG team as a Scientific Officer in 2018 where I work on projects that explore the roles that anaerobic bacteria play in female genital tract health and disease.


As part of the laboratory management team, I help to monitor the research laboratories and supervise students.  I also assist with the managing and day-to-day running of the anaerobic culture facility in the IDM.


Within the MIG team under the leadership of Prof Jo-Ann Passmore, I am involved in projects that look at the diversity of bacteriophages within vaginal Lactobacillus spp. (with Drs Anna Happel and Rémy Froissart), the molecular epidemiology of Chlamydia trachomatis in South African women (with Dr Rubina Bunjun and Pride Kanyoka) and the isolation and characterisation of Lactobacillus spp. for use in probiotic products (with Drs Marijke Fagan-Endres and Anna Happel).


PhD (Medical Virology)


I am originally from Cameroon and I completed my tertiary education in biomedical sciences at UCT. I joined the MIG lab in 2017 as a postdoctoral research fellow where I am applying my skills in HIV immunology to understanding factors influencing vaginal health and the risk of HIV infection.


I am involved in the following projects: i) assessing the role of Depo-Provera and other contraceptives on genital inflammation and HIV risk, as part of the Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV outcomes (ECHO) study (; ii) understanding the role of vitamin D deficiency and genital mucosal susceptibility to STIs like HPV and HIV and iii) the development of point-of-care tests to detect asymptomatic STIs/bacterial vaginosis (BV). These projects seek to contribute towards improving vaginal health outcomes and reducing the burden of HIV in Africa.


Studying for PhD


I am originally from Zimbabwe, I studied at Bulawayo Polytechnic and Harare Polytechnic for my undergraduate studies. I worked on Chlamydia pecorum epidemiology in free ranging koalas at Queensland University of Technology inAustralia for my Msc thesis. I joined MIG group in 2019.


My PhD project involves investigating Chlamydia trachomatis genetic diversity in high-risk adolescent women population in South Africa using both high-resolution multi-locus sequence typing and whole genome sequencing. Exploring the relationship between genital inflammation and persistence focusing specifically on sequence variation in Chlamydia trachomatis virulence and antigen factors.


PhD Candidate in Medical Virology


I completed my BSc in Biochemistry and Genetics at the University of Cape Town in 2017. I then joined the MIG lab in 2018 and completed my Honours in Immunology and Infectious diseases . My thesis topic was Characterizing T cell responses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) stimulated with heat killed or lysed Chlamydia trachomatis. My current project is Genital Inflammation Test (GIFT): Assessing the performance of interleukin-1 for the detection of asymptomatic STI or BV in women at high risk for HIV infection.


MSc in Medical Virology


I am a half-German born and raised in Cape Town. I completed my BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch majoring in Microbiology and Genetics. In 2020 I moved to UCT for my Honours in Immunology and Infectious diseases. I joined the Mucosal Infections Group for my honours research project and have stayed in 2021 for my MSc.


My research project focuses on isolating Lactobacillus strains from young healthy South African women with a persistently optimal vaginal microbiota. This project is part of developing a framework for an African vaginal probiotic product development platform for reproductive health.


M.Phil student


I am Felicity Hartley, an M.Phil. student within the Division of Medical Virology in the Institute for Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT.


For many years my fine art and education background focused on using the creative process for well-being. More recently I have been drawn to adolescent sexual reproductive health. In 2016 and 2017 together with Prof Jo-Ann Passmore and her team we worked on understanding the barriers to adolescent’s accessing SRH through the Wellcome Trust’s WISHing for Wellness Engagement award. My current study, under the supervision of Prof Jo-Ann Passmore, is a focused extension of the findings of that experience. My thesis topic asks what visual arts-based methods contribute to our understanding of adolescent women’s experiences of accessing sexual reproductive health and what their perceived and experienced barriers to SRH are. My hope is that a qualitative perspective can bring a deeper understanding of adolescent SRH behaviour and impact the way biomedical research interacts with participants, making it beneficial and enriching for both the research team and the participants.


MSc student in Medical Virology


I completed my BSc at the University of Cape Town in 2020, majoring in Genetics and Biochemistry. I remained at UCT for my Honours in 2021, specialising in Infectious Disease and Immunology, during which time I joined the MIG lab for my research project. I will be staying in the group for my MSc, expanding on the research done in my Honours year.


My MSc project will focus on isolating and characterising Prevotella bivia strains from young South African women with bacterial vaginosis (BV), which affects many young women in the country. This aim is to investigate the characteristics of these South African strains, to give insight into the role of the bacterium in BV, and to aid research into vaginal probiotic development.


MSc student in Medical Virology


I joined the MIG in 2021 where I began working with members of the bacterial genus Gardnerella. These bacteria are highly associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV) which in turn plays a role in increased risk of HIV acquisition.


My project aims to address the underrepresentation of South African Gardnerella spp. isolates in BV research, which mainly focuses on isolates from Europe and the United States. This will be done by characterization of their susceptibility to antimicrobials, screening for virulence factors and antimicrobial resistance genes, quantifying their formation of biofilms and by studying cooccurrence patterns of Gardnerella spp. in women with and without BV.

Castygo Koketso Ramotsila

MSc student in Medical Virology


I am a South African born and was raised in Pretoria. I completed my BSc in Molecular Biology at the North West University majoring in Microbiology and Chemistry. In 2021 I moved to UCT for my Honours in Infectious diseases and Immunology. I joined the Mucosal Infections Group for my Master’s research in 2022. My research project focuses on biologics targeting inflammation-causing mediators in vaginal surfaces. A part of the project entails looking for the development of vaginal drug products to treat inflammation.

I am keen to utilizing my passion for excellence and get a chance to gain experience in Medical Virology. Moreover, I feel I am responsible for making a big move in this field of Medical Virology.

Phumla Radebe

Research Associate


I am Masters candidate, originally from a small town called Estcourt in KwaZulu Natal. I joined the team as a Research ASSOCIATE in the Division of Medical Virology in January 2022. I am a part of MIST study team, co-supervised by Drs Jo-Ann Passmore and Pamela Gumbi. MIST is a study focusing on the unique socio-behavioural and reproductive tract characteristics around sexual debut in female adolescents.

Caleb Swanepoel

BHSc Honours


Originally from Johannesburg, I hold a BHSc (Hons) in Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease from the University of the Witwatersrand, where I studied the anti-biofilm properties of bimetallic nanoparticles in C. violaceum. My main areas of interest are virology, tropical diseases, and phage therapy.

I moved to Cape Town early in 2022 to pursue my MSc. My research this year is on the interaction between bacteriophages of different morphologies and the human immune system, with a specific focus on lytic phages of UPEC E. coli strains. This research aims to improve the safety and efficacy of future phage therapies by deepening our understanding of the pro and anti-inflammatory effects of bacteriophages.

Charleen Wormsberg



I am half-Belgian and half-German raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I have always had a passion for the human body. I was deeply inspired by the Body Worlds exposition when I was 12 years old, making me want to specialise in the medical biology field.

I completed my BSc Biology degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2020, majoring in Biochemistry and Human Anatomy and Physiology. In 2021, I finished my BSc Honours Degree in Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University with my dissertation focusing on the cardiovascular effects of doxorubicin induced cardiotoxicity. I moved back to UCT to start my Master’s Degree at the Mucosal Infections Group. My research project will focus on isolating and characterising Lactobacillus iners from young women from South Africa and Kenya that have optimal and non-optimal vaginal microbiota.

Maria Mwakatima

Studying for PHD


Originally I am from Tanzania, I have received my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology and Laboratory Sciences from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, my master’s degree in Microbiology and Immunology from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania. Currently I am working for the National Institute for Medical Research as a Research Scientist leading the Immunology Unit . I started as a Junior Scientist responsible for conducting immunogenicity experiments and I was also involved in coordinating and conducting Tuberculosis studies.

I joined Mucosal Infectious Group (MIG) in Jan 2023 as a PHD candidate in medical Virology. My PHD project focus on Predicting Human Papilloma Virus prevalence in a cohort study of women living in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Madagascar by evaluating performance of a novel point of care Genital Inflammations Test (GIFT) device for detecting presence of STI’s and Bacterial Vaginosis.