Botswana Harvard Partnership Excels at AIDS Conference

BHP & HAI Researchers at CROI

In between Nor’easters, the premier gathering for AIDS researchers was held in Boston in early March. The annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) brought together top researchers from around the world to share the latest developments in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS. The Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) made a strong showing, both with the number of researchers attending and the breadth of studies presented.

BHP clinicians and lab scientists swept the International Investigator Awards, receiving 7 out of 32 spots awarded to early career investigators. BHP researchers and their Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI) colleagues presented their work at 6 talks and 20 poster presentations. (Click here for a full list of BHP/HAI presentations.)

Dr. Unoda Chakalisa
Dr. Unoda Chakalisa

For Dr. Unoda Chakalisa, a Study Coordinator at the BHP’s Clinical Trials Unit, attending CROI for the first time “was an inspiration to keep putting in the hard work to ensure that the research we do at BHP translates into policy changes for the betterment of the people who need it the most.”

Chakalisa, a clinician/researcher, presented research on risky sexual practices among young people. “We analyzed data from the ongoing Botswana Combination Prevention Project (BCPP) to examine self-reported sexual practices among 16 to 24-year-olds,” she said.

The findings showed behavior differed significantly between young men and women. Young women had a higher prevalence of HIV and were significantly more likely to report transactional sex, intergenerational sex, and inconsistent condom use than young men. Young women were also less likely to start having sex before the age of 15, use alcohol with sex, or have 2 or more sexual partners in the last 12 months. This information will be helpful in designing targeted interventions.

The Boston meeting was the fifth time at CROI for Dr. Gbolahan Ajibola, a physician who learned research protocols after he arrived at BHP. The conference was “as always, enlightening and educating,” he said. “Based on my research interest, it was helpful to see how much work is being done globally to explore the possibilities of different forms of treatment for HIV-infected persons, especially children.”

His poster presentation showed the impact of providing vaccinations for rotavirus and pneumococcal bacteria to HEU infants—babies who were exposed to HIV in the womb but were not infected. HEU infants have more than twice the mortality of infants who were not exposed to HIV or antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in the womb.

“We found significant declines in the burden of diarrheal and respiratory illness among HEU children in Botswana following the introduction rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines,” said Ajibola.

Creating a Culture of Research

When Harvard’s Prof. Max Essex first arrived Botswana in 1996 at the invitation of then President Ketumile Masire, it was at the peak of new HIV infections in the country and shortly before the peak of deaths from HIV/AIDS. Over a third of pregnant women were HIV-positive. At the time, Botswana had no research programs or expertise on HIV/AIDS.

“Botswana was feeling a very heavy burden,” remembers Essex. “The President and his administrative team were enthusiastic about building a collaboration.” An agreement was signed to establish the Botswana Harvard Partnership. Local physicians and lab technicians were recruited to join the team.

Prof. Max Essex & President Festus Mogae at BHP opening, 2001.
Prof. Max Essex & President Festus Mogae at BHP opening, 2001

“In the next four or five years, the government made a strong commitment to first diagnose and then treat people with HIV/AIDS,” remembers Essex. “That meant there was a large pool of people who were available for research studies to find out how well the drugs were working, how much drug resistance was a problem, and how transmissions were occurring. We built a strong research team to follow the patients and collect samples. We also built a lab infrastructure so things could be done there rapidly.”

In 2016, the BHP celebrated its 20th anniversary. Essex notes the growth of a research culture within Botswana. “Now there is deep expertise both in understanding the fundamental mechanisms of viral pathogenesis, how drug resistance evolves, and how transmission occurs, as well as the clinical research capacity to monitor what’s actually happening from the standpoint of people taking the drugs,” he said. “I think that’s made clear from how many BHP researchers are presenting at international meetings like CROI.”

Dr. Mompati Mmalane, BHP Co-Director, agrees. “There was a lot of mentoring from the Harvard School of Public Health and other collaborators in the West,” he said. Mentoring duties are now shared by established researchers from within and outside of BHP. “Now we have many young scientists who we hope in the future will become senior scientists.”

BHP/HAI AWARDS AND PRESENTATIONS

Some of the BHP delegates to CROI. (L to R, 1st row: Dr. Emily Shava, Keolebogile Mmasa, Dr. Mompati Mmalane, Dr. Unoda Chakalisa, Dr. Gbolahan Ajibola. 2nd row: Dr. Sikhulile Moyo, Dr. Etienne Kadima, Dr. Simani Gaseitsiwe, Dr. Joseph Jarvis.
Some of the BHP delegates to CROI (L to R, 1st row: Dr. Emily Shava, Keolebogile Mmasa, Dr. Mompati Mmalane, Dr. Unoda Chakalisa, Dr. Gbolahan Ajibola. 2nd row: Dr. Sikhulile Moyo, Dr. Etienne Kadima, Dr. Simani Gaseitsiwe, Dr. Joseph Jarvis)

New Investigator Award
Emily Shava

International Investigator Award
Gbolahan Ajibola
Motswedi Anderson
Unoda Chakalisa
Etienne Kadima
Mompati Mmalane
Keolebogile Mmasa
Sikhulile Moyo

Talks

TRANSITIONING TO NEW GENERIC ANTIRETROVIRALS IN SUB SAHARAN AFRICA
Tendani Gaolathe

HIV AND CANCER RISK IN CONTEXT OF HIGH ART COVERAGE IN BOTSWANA
Scott Dryden-Peterson, Neo Tapela, Isaac Nkele, Oaitse John, Gita Suneja, Surbhi Grover, Memory Bvochora-Nsingo, Malebogo Pusoentsi, Joseph Makhema, Mompati O. Mmalane, Mukendi Kayembe, Shahin Lockman

INNATE IMMUNE ACTIVATION AMONG HIV1 EXPOSED UNINFECTED INFANTS FROM BOTSWANA
Pilar Garcia Broncano, Samuel W. Kgole, Gosego Masasa, Terence Mohammed, Sikhulile Moyo, Joseph Makhema, Xu G. Yu, Jennifer Jao, Roger L. Shapiro, Mathias Lichterfeld, Kathleen M. Powis

HIGHER MORTALITY IN HIV-INFECTED VS. UNINFECTED ADULTS DESPITE ART, BOTSWANA
Tendani Gaolathe, Kathleen Wirth, Molly Pretorius Holme, Etienne Kadima, Unoda A. Chakalisa, Kutlo Manyake, Joseph Makhema, Mompati O. Mmalane, Jean Leidner, Scott Dryden-Peterson, Kathleen M. Powis, Mosepele Mosepele, Refeletswe Lebelonyane, Lisa A. Mills, Shahin Lockman

LOW PREVALENCE OF INTEGRASE STRAND TRANSFER INHIBITORS RESISTANCE ACROSS BOTSWANA
Simani Gaseitsiwe, Sikhulile Moyo, Melissa Zahralban-Steele, Dorcas Maruapula, Baitshepi Mokaleng, Terence Mohammed, Shenaaz El-Halabi, Elliot G. Raizes, Tendani Gaolathe, Shahin Lockman, Max Essex, Vlad Novitsky

LOW HIV RESERVOIR AT 84 WEEKS IN VERY EARLY TREATED HIV INFECTED CHILDREN IN BOTSWANA
Roger L. Shapiro, Mathias Lichterfeld, Michael D. Hughes, Kara Bennett, Kenneth Maswabi, Gbolahan Ajibola, Pilar Garcia-Broncano, Sikhulile Moyo, Terence Mohammed, Patrick Jean-Philippe, Maureen Sakoi, Oganne Batlang, Shahin Lockman, Joseph Makhema, Daniel R. Kuritzkes

Poster Presentations

ADVANCED HIV AND THE CARE CASCADE IN THE BOTSWANA COMBINATION PREVENTION PROJECT
Refeletswe Lebelonyane, Lisa A. Mills, Chipo Mogorosi, Shenaaz El-Halabi, Janet Moore, Lisa Block, Huisheng Wang, Joe Theu, Joseph Makhema, Stembile Matambo, Tafireyi Marukutira, Etienne Kadima, Max Kapanda, Pamela J. Bachanas, Joseph N. Jarvis

ASSESSING HIV 1C TRANSMISSION NETWORKS IN BOTSWANA AT LOW SAMPLING DENSITY
Vlad Novitsky, Melissa Zahralban-Steele, Sikhulile Moyo, Dorcas Maruapula, Baitshepi Mokaleng, Tapiwa Nkhisang, Mary F. McLane, Sally Madiba, Erik van Widenfelt, Tendani Gaolathe, Etienne Kadima, Shahin Lockman, Joseph Makhema, Simani Gaseitsiwe, Max Essex

ASSOCIATION OF MOBILITY WITH HIV RECENT INFECTIONS AND VIREMIA IN BOTSWANA
Mompati O. Mmalane, Sikhulile Moyo, Baraedi W. Sento, Jean Leidner, Kara Bennett, Thandie Phindela, Kutlo Manyake, Ernest Moseki, Tendani Gaolathe, Joseph Makhema, Molly Pretorius Holme, Janet Moore, Max Essex, Shahin Lockman, Kathleen Wirth

DECREASED DIARRHEAL AND RESPIRATORY DISEASE IN HEUS FOLLOWING RV AND PCV VACCINATION
Gbolahan Ajibola, Kara Bennett, Kathleen M. Powis, Michael D. Hughes, Jean Leidner, Samuel W. Kgole, Kerapetse Botebele, Oganne Batlang, Chipo Petlo, Mompati O. Mmalane, Joseph Makhema, Shahin Lockman, Roger L. Shapiro

GESTATIONAL DIABETES IN WOMEN ON DOLUTEGRAVIR- OR EFAVIRENZ- BASED ART IN BOTSWANA
Keolebogile N. Mmasa, Kathleen M. Powis, Joseph Makhema, Sikhulile Moyo, Mariana Gerschenson, Terence Mohammed, Erik VanWidenfelt, Justine Legbedze, Elaine J. Abrams, Emilia Bagiella, Irwin J. Kurland, Mitchell Geffner, Jennifer Jao

HIGH PREVALENCE OF CONCURRENT SEXUAL PARTNERSHIPS IN A LARGE POPULATION SURVEY
Etienne Kadima, Kathleen Wirth, Kara Bennett, Tendani Gaolathe, Jean Leidner, Unoda A. Chakalisa, Erik VanWidenfelt, Pamela J. Bachanas, Refeletswe Lebelonyane, Mompati O. Mmalane, Joseph Makhema, Molly Pretorius Holme, Shahin Lockman, Max Essex, Sikhulile Moyo

HIGH PREVALENCE OF HYPERTENSION IN HIV-INFECTED AND HIV-UNINFECTED ADULTS IN BOTSWANA
Mosepele Mosepele, Kara Bennett, Tendani Gaolathe, Joseph Makhema,  Mompati O. Mmalane, Molly Pretorius Holme, Refeletswe Lebelonyane,  Kathleen M. Powis, Jean Leidner, Joseph N. Jarvis, Neo Tapela, Tiny Masupe, Lucky Mokgatlhe, Kathleen Wirth, Shahin Lockman

HIGH RATES OF ADVERSE BIRTH OUTCOMES IN SYPHILIS & HIV COINFECTED WOMEN IN BOTSWANA
Emily Shava, Sikhulile Moyo, Modiegi Diseko, Rebecca Zash, Eldah N. Dintwa, Lucy Mupfumi, Judith Mabuta, Gloria Mayondi, Jennifer Y. Chen, Shahin Lockman, Mompati O. Mmalane, Joseph Makhema, Roger L. Shapiro

HIV AND CANCER RISK IN CONTEXT OF HIGH ART COVERAGE IN BOTSWANA
Scott Dryden-Peterson, Neo Tapela, Isaac Nkele, Oaitse John, Gita Suneja, Surbhi Grover, Memory Bvochora-Nsingo, Malebogo Pusoentsi, Joseph Makhema, Mompati O. Mmalane, Mukendi Kayembe, Shahin Lockman

INCREASED RISK OF HYPERTENSION IN PREGNANCY AMONG WOMEN ON NEVIRAPINE-BASED REGIMENS
Rebecca Zash, Paige L. Williams, Denise Jacobson, Modiegi Diseko, Gloria Mayondi, Judith Mabuta, Katherine Johnson, Mompati O. Mmalane, Max Essex, Shahin Lockman, Joseph Makhema, Chipo Petlo, Roger L. Shapiro

INNATE IMMUNE ACTIVATION AMONG HIV 1 EXPOSED UNINFECTED INFANTS FROM BOTSWANA
Pilar Garcia Broncano, Samuel W. Kgole, Gosego Masasa, Terence Mohammed, Sikhulile Moyo, Joseph Makhema, Xu G. Yu, Jennifer Jao, Roger L. Shapiro, Mathias Lichterfeld, Kathleen M. Powis

IN SILICO ANALYSIS OF OCCULT HBV ASSOCIATED MUTATIONS IN BOTSWANA
Motswedi Anderson, Wonderful T. Choga, Sikhulile Moyo, Tshepiso Mbangiwa, Bonolo B. Phinius, Theresa K. Sebunya, Joseph Makhema, Richard G. Marlink, Max Essex, Rosemary Musonda, Jason T. Blackard, Simani Gaseitsiwe

LINKAGE, TREATMENT AND SUPPRESSION IN THE BOTSWANA COMBINATION PREVENTION PROJECT
Pamela J. Bachanas, Refeletswe Lebelonyane, Mary Grace Alwano, William Abrams, Baraedi W. Sento, Lisa Block, Tendani Gaolathe, Shahin Lockman, Shenaaz El Halabi, Janet Moore

LOW PREVALENCE OF INTEGRASE STRAND TRANSFER INHIBITORS RESISTANCE ACROSS BOTSWANA
Simani Gaseitsiwe, Sikhulile Moyo, Melissa Zahralban-Steele, Dorcas Maruapula, Baitshepi Mokaleng, Terence Mohammed, Shenaaz El-Halabi, Elliot G. Raizes, Tendani Gaolathe, Shahin Lockman, Max Essex, Vlad Novitsky

MOLECULAR PROFILE OF HIV- 1 RESERVOIRS IN EARLY- TREATED INFANTS FROM BOTSWANA
Pilar Garcia Broncano, Kevin Einkauf, Ce Gao, Guinevere Q. Lee, Kenneth Maswabi, Gbolahan Ajibola, Sikhulile Moyo, Terence Mohammed, Thabani Ncube, Joseph Makhema, Kathleen M. Powis, Xu G. Yu, Daniel R. Kuritzkes, Roger L. Shapiro, Mathias Lichterfeld

NEAR FULL LENGTH GENOMES OF CHRONIC AND OCCULT HBV FROM HIV PATIENTS IN BOTSWANA
Motswedi Anderson, Wonderful T. Choga, Sikhulile Moyo, Bonolo B. Phinius, Tshepiso Mbangiwa, Lynnette Bhebhe, Theresa K. Sebunya, Richard G. Marlink, Max Essex, Rosemary Musonda, Jason T. Blackard, Simani Gaseitsiwe

PLACENTAL EVIDENCE OF MATERNAL VASCULAR MALPERFUSION AMONG HIV INFECTED WOMEN
Rebecca Zash, Morgan Jengela, Drucilla Roberts, Sajini Souda, Modiegi Diseko, Shally Morgan, Gloria Mayondi, Mukendi Kayembe, Lisa Bebell, Mompati O. Mmalane, Max Essex, Shahin Lockman, Joseph Makhema, Roger L. Shapiro

PREVALENCE OF NRTI, NNRTI AND PI MUTATIONS ACROSS BOTSWANA IN 2013-2015
Sikhulile Moyo, Simani Gaseitsiwe, Melissa Zahralban-Steele, Dorcas Maruapula, Baitshepi Mokaleng, Terence Mohammed, Erik van Widenfelt, Madisa Mine, Elliot G. Raizes, Etienne Kadima, Tendani Gaolathe, Joseph Makhema, Shahin Lockman, Max Essex, Vlad Novitsky

SELF- REPORTED RISKY SEXUAL PRACTICES AMONG ADOLESCENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS IN BOTSWANA
Unoda A. Chakalisa, Kathleen Wirth, Kara Bennett, Etienne Kadima, Kutlo Manyake, Tendani Gaolathe, Pamela J. Bachanas, Tafireyi Marukutira, Scott Dryden-Peterson, Mompati O. Mmalane, Joseph Makhema, Molly Pretorius Holme, Max Essex, Shahin Lockman, Kathleen M. Powis

UNDISCLOSED ANTIRETROVIRAL DRUG USE IN BOTSWANA—IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIONAL ESTIMATES
Sikhulile Moyo, Simani Gaseitsiwe, Kathleen M. Powis, Terence Mohammed, Comfort Maphorisa, William Abrams, Liziwe Chebani, Kutlo Manyake, Molly Pretorius Holme, Tendani Gaolathe, Joseph Makhema, Shahin Lockman, William Clarke, Max Essex, Vlad Novitsky

Researchers at the Botswana-Harvard Breakfast at CROI 2018

About Martha S Henry

Martha Henry is the Director of Communications for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative.