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University of Pennsylvania Helps -- and Learns From -- Botswana's HIV Epidemic

December 12, 2013

This article was reported by Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Perelman School of Medicine collaboration with the University of Botswana and the Botswana government benefitted all partners. Penn medical students learned to make diagnoses based on their physical-exam skills, since diagnostic tests were not available, and Perelman School of Medicine staff have helped train local providers for Botswana's national HIV prevention and treatment program and assisted in founding Botswana's first medical school. The US Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations grant, and the Penn Center for AIDS Research have funded the partnership.

The partnership began in 2001 with the goal of building systems to address Botswana's HIV/AIDS epidemic. Festus Mogae, president of Botswana from 1998 to 2008, was proactive in fighting HIV/AIDS. Botswana adopted routine HIV testing, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Harvard AIDS Initiative, and drug firms Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb have assisted in antiretroviral drug distribution. The UN reported in 2012 that 95 percent of HIV-infected Botswanans received antiretroviral drugs, and life expectancy had risen from 49 to 53 years. The infection rate for infants born to HIV-infected mothers has dropped to fewer than 4 percent. Approximately 25 percent of Botswanans were HIV-infected.

Approximately 110 Perelman School of Medicine staff live and work in Botswana, and hundreds of students, researchers, and faculty have visited the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, Botswana, as well as other clinics in the country. Penn students screen for cervical cancer and provide TB and HIV treatment. Ongoing challenges included finding resources for women's health, since most people were not aware that HIV-infected women were more vulnerable to cervical cancer. The success of Botswana's diamond mining industry has resulted in increased HIV incidence, since miners tended to have multiple sexual partners.

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