The Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) has developed capacity for SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) testing in an effort to support the national testing enterprise for the deadly Corona Virus responsible for the global pandemic. This is also to provide capacity for BHP SARS-COV-2/COVID-19 Research capabilities and to test BHP staff and study participants.
By developing this testing capacity, BHP has lived up to its mission of fighting emerging public health challenges through innovative research, education and capacity building that impact on policy and practice. Prior to developing this testing capacity, BHP established COVID -19 Committee and developed COVID -19 work and research guidelines. Case identification and testing standard operating procedures were developed.
“Since we have now developed internal testing capability, BHP staff shall be offered testing through contacting the BHP COVID-19committee focal Person,” said BHP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Joseph Makhema in a communication to staff.
Dr Ponego Ponatshego is the BHP COVID-19 Focal Person and has been leading the BHP COVID-19 committee in developing the guidelines and standard Operation Procedures (SOP’s) to be followed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Dr Ponartshego has also been spearheading the training of the BHP volunteers who are collecting COVID-19 specimens for testing at the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory (BHHRL).
Consistent with BHP principles of collaboration as one its core values, BHP is also participating in the national effort. Firstly, BHP signed an addendum to the Memorandum of Agreement with the Ministry of Health and Wellness for BHP to provide technical and laboratory testing support to the National Health Laboratory and collaborate in various initiatives to mitigate SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic in Botswana. Secondly, Extended testing to Princess Marina Hospital to facilitate testing at high-risk identified areas, and for symptomatic members of PMH staff. The initial testing covered the PMH’s Accident and Emergency (A&E), Out Patient Department and Theatre and was to be extended to patients admitted with respiratory conditions in medical wards and to obstetric patient.
A testing team of physicians and nurses has been constituted and has been trained on obtaining the samples and on the proper use of Personal Protective Clothing (PPE) and all necessary COVID-19 safety protocols. Furthermore, BHP is honoured to have key BHP affiliated experts solicited to participate in the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force giving valuable advise on the control of the pandemic with Professor Mosepele Mosepele, a BHP Research Associate appointed Deputy Coordinator of the Task Force and The BHP Laboratory Director, Dr Sikhulile Moyo appointed Co-Chief Scientific Officer advising on laboratory scientific and testing strategy.
The Thabatshe Team has been doing a weekly surveillance of COVID-19-like-illnesses and symptoms on the participants of the Thabatshe prospective cohort study. This study has been enrolling consenting confirmed cancer patients receiving specialized care at four referral oncology centers in Botswana since 2010 to assess Cancer treatment outcomes. The patients are asked specifically about COVID-19-like symptoms (sore throat, fever, cough, rhinorhoea) in order to provide prompt counseling and linkage to care for screening and testing for COVID-19 as and when need arises.