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June 28, 2006

Alumna Fights AIDS in Lesotho

Since 2005, Mphu Ramatlapeng, MD, MPH ’84, has been the country director for the Clinton Foundation's HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) in the Kingdom of Lesotho, a tiny country within the east central region of the Republic of South Africa. Over 23 percent of Lesotho’s adult population is HIV-positive.

Asked what motivated her to get involved in HIV/AIDS work, Ramatlapeng says, “I decided I was not going to wait on the sidelines until someone offered me a solution to what was now a national crisis. I realized that while I was only one person, I was not too small to make a difference!”

With the backing of the Clinton Foundation, Dr. Ramatlapeng is supporting the Ministry of Health’s efforts to scale up the delivery of comprehensive HIV/AIDS care, treatment and prevention services to all patients in need. She is also providing the government with strategic advice on the delivery of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and on planning and policy development at the national level.

Ramatlapeng, who was herself born in Lesotho, says the most difficult part of her work is convincing people to change their approach to HIV/AIDS from conducting “business as usual” to thinking of the epidemic as a national emergency. “I think that most people still do not realize the true extent of this crisis.”

In the coming months, Ramatlapeng and her colleagues will be assisting the Ministry to roll out ARVs to some of the most remote and underserved parts of the country. This effort will not only help people with AIDS in isolated mountain regions of Lesotho but it will also demonstrate that accessible, high-quality treatment is indeed possible even in the most resource-constrained settings.

The most rewarding part of her job, says Ramatlapeng, is to see HIV-positive patients who were once very ill share their experiences with other patients who are learning how to manage their disease. “We recently helped the military launch a testing campaign, for example, and one solider—an officer–stood up in front of 400 soldiers to talk about his experiences with ARVs and encourage everyone to know their HIV status,” she says.

Related pages on the School's website:
The School's HIV/AIDs page 
The Alumni page 
The MPH page

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.