Harvard President Drew Faust toured clinics and laboratories of the Botswana–Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) on the first visit of a sitting Harvard president to Africa. (View a slide show here) Established in 1996, the BHP is a collaborative research and training initiative between the government of Botswana and the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative (HAI).
On the morning of November 25th, Faust was met at the airport in Gaborone, the capitol of Botswana, by Max Essex, Chair of both the BHP and HAI, along with other researchers and clincians.
The first stop on Faust’s daylong visit was Mochudi, a village of 40,000 that has an adult HIV prevalence of about 25%. The village is the site of a new HAI research study called the Mochudi Project, a comprehensive, community-based approach to HIV prevention that emphasizes the detection and treatment of acute (recent) HIV infections.
Faust toured the Mochudi hospital and visited BHP clinics on the hospital grounds where clinical trials are underway. She talked with young mothers in the Mma Bana Study, an NIH-funded trial designed to determine the optimal drug regimen to prevent mother-to-child transmission among breastfeeding women in Botswana.
In the afternoon, Faust returned to Gaborone to meet with young Harvard-trained researchers now working at the BHP, including Dr. Neo Tapela, a native of Botswana who is studying HIV and chronic diseases. Faust toured the Botswana–Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory that serves as headquarters for the BHP. The Laboratory houses research on a number of projects, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the genomic analysis of HIV-1C, the viral sub-type predominant in southern Africa. The Laboratory also serves as a facility to train HIV/AIDS researchers.
Faust met with Botswana’s Minister of Health to discuss Harvard’s continuing commitment to the Botswana–Harvard Partnership. She also met with the University of Botswana’s Vice Chancellor to explore future collaborations between the two schools.
At a dinner in the evening to celebrate the cooperation between Botswana and Harvard, Faust spoke about the importance of leadership, acknowledging the two former Botswana presidents in attendance, President Masire, who was instrumental in establishing the partnership, and President Mogae, who launched Botswana’s national antiretroviral drug program.
In her remarks, Faust spoke of the university-wide scope of the Botswana–Harvard Partnership. “It has been so clear to me since the earliest days of my presidency,” she said, “indeed when I was at Harvard before my presidency and heard about this remarkable collaboration, that it was a partnership that honored and privileged and served us at Harvard—our students, our faculty, at every level of the institution, from the undergraduates who have been part of the project, to the researchers, to the medical students, to the faculty themselves.”