Botswana-UPenn Partnership eyes new areas of collaboration

Women’s health issues and non-communicable diseases are the next challenges the highly successful Botswana-UPenn Partnership (BUP) aims to tackle, according to three colleagues from Botswana who visited campus last week.  

The partnership between Penn, the Botswana Ministry of Health, and the University of Botswana traces its roots back 11 years, when a team of Penn medical professionals was recruited to help stem the tide of AIDS infections in the African country. The collaboration has grown far beyond efforts to treat a single disease, and now includes research in several areas, a new medical school in Botswana, and other initiatives, such as telemedicine.

Harvey Friedman, BUP director and chief of infectious diseases at the Perelman School of Medicine, calls the partnership “a bit of an experiment” that has become the “poster child of how to handle HIV/AIDS well.”

During their campus visit, BUP Country Director Doreen Ramogola-Masire, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and two colleagues from Botswana, met with leaders at Penn to discuss what additional health issues the partnership can address in the future.

“We want to take the success and structure [of BUP] and expand to improve health in other areas,” Ramogola-Masire says.

Kolaatamo C.S. Molefho, an emergency medicine specialist who is the permanent secretary at the Botswana Ministry of Health, and G.L. Tlogelang, the liaison between the ministry and the partnership, described the effect the BUP has had on their country and discussed possible areas of future collaboration.

Molefho says the BUP helped reduce Botwana’s HIV/AIDS infection rate from 40 percent to 17.6 percent, and adds that the infection rate among the country’s younger age group is down 50 percent. “We’re no longer the leading country in rates of infection,” he notes.

Tlogelang now wants to attack non-communicative diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, but he sees maternal-fetal health as the country’s biggest challenge. “Ninety-six percent of our mothers give birth in hospitals now,” he says, “but the mortality rate is still too high.”

Tlogelang adds that he’s looking for strategic partners “who can help stem the tide of these diseases until we can develop the skills we need to treat them.”

Ramogola-Masire also talked about the BUP's See and Treat pilot program for detecting and treating cervical cancer, noting that cervical cancer is more common among those living with HIV. New funding from the U.S. government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, will allow her to expand the program to five sites throughout Botswana.

Botswana-UPenn Partnership