Botswana-UPenn Partnership helps country tackle national crisis

Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic"

Botswana, in southern Africa, has the second-highest adult HIV prevalence in the world, with nearly a quarter of adults infected.

In 2001, the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership reached out to Penn for help in addressing the epidemic—and the University has been offering assistance to the country ever since.

Through the Botswana-UPenn Partnership, led by Harvey Friedman, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Penn’s School of Medicine, the University sends roughly 300 nurses, medical students and other staff to Botswana annually.

Fifty Penn doctors and staff work permanently in clinical and research programs in Botswana, including tuberculosis and HIV treatment. The Partnership also includes education exchanges and research projects. For example, Carrie L. Kovarik, an assistant professor of dermatology and infectious diseases at Penn, runs a dermatological project in the country. Penn’s Biomedical Library is bringing a librarian to Philadelphia from the University of Botswana to observe the University’s library functions.

Other schools—such as Harvard and Baylor—are working in Botswana, but Heather Calvert, administrator of the Partnership, says Penn is unique because nearly all 12 schools have participated in some way.

The efforts have paid off. By partnering together, and giving expecting mothers and newborn babies antiretroviral drugs, the mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV or AIDS in Botswana has dropped significantly. “It used to be that when mothers had HIV or AIDS and they gave birth to a baby in Botswana, chances were very good that baby would be born with HIV or AIDS,” Calvert says. “Now, just because you’re mother has HIV doesn’t mean you will.”

Originally published on August 19, 2009