Lives saved are always cause for celebration. The morning of January 26, 2017, in a hotel meeting room in Gaborone, Botswana, AIDS researchers, government officials, and others came together to celebrate 20 years of research, education, and training efforts by the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) to end the AIDS epidemic in southern Africa.
“BHP is a shining example of international public/private partnership reshaping a nation’s public health landscape.”
Hon. Earl R. Miller
U.S. Ambassador to Botswana
Former President of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire received the Legacy Award for his founding role in the BHP. In 1996, then-President Masire invited Harvard professor Max Essex to Botswana to help address the country’s devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic. Essex outlined the successes and challenges the BHP has faced in two decades of work. BHP CEO Dr. Joseph Makhema reviewed research highlights and Deputy CEO Dr. Mompati Mmalane spoke about BHP’s strategy for the next five years. Others spoke about the importance of community-based research, implementation research, and capacity building.
“We are celebrating 20 years of research, capacity building and saving lives. I want to underscore saving lives because it is saving lives in the truest of senses.”
Hon. Dorcas Makgato
Botswana Minister of Health and Wellness
The last time Dr. Soon-Young Yoon, a U.N. advisor and member of the Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI) International Advisory Council, was in Botswana was in 2001, the year the BHP Lab opened. She returned for the 20th. “Imagine that in that period of time so many people have been trained and the project accomplished what it set out to do and more,” she reflected.
“I was eager to see the Partnership in action,” said Richard M. Smith, former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek and HAI Council member, who also traveled to Gaborone for the 20th. “There’s nothing like the chance to walk through the research center, to see the inspiring young scientists and students of Botswana at work in the labs, to put flesh on the bones of a story.”
“The BHP is not just an HIV/AIDS focused public health effort,” said Smith. “It has a broader view of a society’s health challenges and is contributing not only on the HIV/AIDS front, but also on other emerging public health issues.”
After the official program, guests visited the BHP headquarters for a tour of the labs and offices. Members of study teams set up stalls in the courtyard to display information and answer questions about their work.
The next day, BHP leaders and staff traded dress clothes for casual attire and enjoyed a Field Day. The festivities included a morning Health Walk to the Gaborone stadium, foot races, dance performances, a tug-of-war, and a friendly game of soccer/football against the Ministry of Health squad.
It rained a bit, but in arid Botswana, rain is a sign of blessing and good luck. Pula!