In January, the Botswana Harvard Partnership (BHP) celebrated its 20th anniversary. At the ceremony in Gaborone, Dr. Max Essex , Chair of both the BHP and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative, delivered these remarks:
Botswana and the Botswana Harvard Partnership have much to celebrate. Although AIDS in Africa was recognized as a major epidemic in east and central Africa in the early to mid 1980s, it was not yet a big deal in southern Africa. By the early to mid 1990s, however, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization prevalence estimates showed that southern Africa was much more impacted than all other regions of the world.
Dr. Soon-Young Yoon is an anthropologist and advocate for women’s human rights. She made the following remarks at the Botswana Harvard Partnership’s 20th anniversary celebration in Gaborone on January 26, 2017:
His Excellency former President Ketumile Masire, Honorable Minister Dorcus Makgatho, H. E. Ambassador Miller, distinguished speakers and guests.
In 2001, I was honored to represent the Harvard AIDS Initiative’s International Advisory Council when we presented His Excellency former President Festus Mogae with the Leadership Award for his inspiring response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. On that occasion, he said that we all live with AIDS because everyone has a relative or friend whose life has been changed by the disease. I remember thinking how fortunate this country was to have a leader who was willing to go against the tide of fear and doubt and express compassion instead of blame for AIDs patients.
Richard M. Smith is a member of HAI’s International Advisory Council. He attended the Botswana Harvard Partnership’s 20th anniversary celebration in Gaborone, Botswana on January 26, 2017 and delivered the following remarks:
It was in 1983 that I first heard about HIV/AIDS. I was the Executive Editor of Newsweek magazine, and our medical editors and reporters had come in to describe a mysterious disease that had received no national media attention, but was spreading at an alarming rate. By the time their briefing was over, our natural skepticism had vanished, and we ultimately scheduled a cover story. The cover image was a vial of blood, and the main headline was simply: EPIDEMIC.
The story created a firestorm. Our critics said that we were guilty of sensationalism—that we had just discovered another disease of the month. How could we raise so much fear about a disease that was still afflicting a relatively small group of people?
The Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) was established 20 years ago to help combat HIV/AIDS at the epicenter of the epidemic. At the time, about 37% of pregnant women in Botswana were infected with HIV. Dr. Joseph Makhema was a young physician working what seemed like unending hours at the public hospital in Gaborone, where effective treatment was not yet available. Today, Dr. Makhema is the CEO of the Institute he played an important role in establishing. Martha Henry, Executive Director of HAI, spoke with him about the BHP’s history and future.Continue reading →
Research to end the AIDS epidemic goes on all day (and many nights) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. To mark World AIDS Day 2016, we bring you a sampling of the important work being done around the world by our scientists, clinicians, students and staff.
Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Bond is a Social Anthropologist and Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Based in Zambia, she heads the social science unit at Zambart. She is the lead social scientist for PopART (Population Effects of Antiretroviral Therapy to Reduce HIV Transmission) a large community-randomized trial being carried out in 21 communities in South Africa and Zambia. The trial is designed to evaluate the impact of a universal test-and-treat intervention on population-level HIV incidence. Similar to HAI’s Botswana Combination Prevention Project, the goal of PopART is to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections.
Martha Henry, Executive Director of HAI, spoke over Skype with Dr. Bond in Zambia.
After graduating from Berkeley in 2005, Marni von Wilpert left California to serve as a social worker in the Peace Corps. She was sent to Mokubilo, a rural village in eastern Botswana. There, she provided services for babies born with HIV and children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS. She also helped with education, treatment, and care for HIV-positive adults.
“I witnessed a lot of discrimination in my village,” said von Wilpert. “Kids were kicked out of the one primary school in the village and told they couldn’t come back because they were showing signs of HIV infection. A lot of women were divorced by their husbands because women were often the ones to test first since they’re the ones to get pregnant. There was only so much I could do as a social worker. I became convinced that legal assistance could make a meaningful difference in the lives of people who faced discrimination. From my village in Botswana, I applied to law school.”
The AIDS epidemic has had a devastating impact on child survival in sub-Saharan Africa. In Botswana, under-five mortality almost doubled from 1990 to 2000. Since then, remarkable progress has been made to prevent pregnant HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus to their infants, either in utero or through breastfeeding. Yet in a study published this July in BMC Pediatrics, Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI) researchers found that HIV-exposed or infected children in Botswana account for more than half of deaths in children younger than two. Continue reading →
For almost 30 years, Dr. Richard Marlink helped shape the work of the Harvard AIDS Initiative (HAI). As he leaves to create and lead the Rutgers Global Health Institute, we—his colleagues at HAI— created a short video to express our appreciation of his work and gratitude for his friendship.
One tiny vial of blood contains a remarkable amount of genetic information about both the person from whom it was drawn and infectious agents like HIV circulating at the time of the needle prick. Because HIV mutates so quickly, having access to lots of samples to study is a valuable resource. “It’s a diamond for science,” said Sikhulile Moyo, Laboratory Manager at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP). He was referring to the blood samples banked in the BHP freezers. “Specimens would be a more accurate term,” he corrected, “biological samples freely given to be processed for diagnosis or disease monitoring.”