Marcel Tongo Passo, a former SANTHE Post-doctoral trainee based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa, lead SANTHE’s expansion into Francophone Africa in 2018 by starting his own laboratory in Yaoundé, Cameroon. This followed the completion of his post-doctoral training which lasted 8 years at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in the Western Cape, South Africa and UKZN, and a a two-year $100,000 USD Path-to-Independence award issued to him by SANTHE to help him establish his own independent research programme in the country of his birth. This programme focusses on investigating the extraordinary diversity of HIV that circulates in Cameroon and the Congo basin as a whole, as well as the biological properties of these viruses which may explain why so many variants circulating in the region have not spread globally.
Tongo Passo’s scientific career started when, as a young boy, he came across some baby birds that had fallen from their nest and managed to rescue them. This early experience instilled a love of science and a desire to understand how life works and how it adapts to different environments. He grew up in the predominantly coastal areas of Douala and Nkongsamba in Cameroon and after finishing school, undertook BSc and MSc degrees in Biochemistry at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon. This was followed by a PhD in Medical Virology from UCT. His post-doctoral research experience started in the Division of Immunology and then the Division of Computational Biology (both at UCT), which - upon the award of a SANTHE Fellowship in 2016 - then lead to UKZN in Durban South Africa.