The Board of Directors for the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) led by the Chairman, Prof Roger Shapiro have reflected on racism as a public health challenge following the murder of George Floyd by a white Police Officer in Minneapolis, United States of America. In his message to the BHP community, Prof.Shapiro noted that he is personally shocked and saddened by the racist police brutality in his home country and wanted to convey words of comfort as Board Chairman and on behalf of all Americans who are part of the BHP community.
“The United States has a long fight ahead to end the scourge of racism. I hope that we will get there, and that we will soon live in a more just and equitable world,” he said. Expressing his deepest gratitude for the opportunity to work with all members of the BHP community in their diversity, Prof.Shapiro pointed out that he knows that many people grew up with apartheid at their doorstep and that the images on the Internet and TV are all too familiar.
“But I want to ask you not to lose hope in the United States. This is a hard thing to ask, and at least for me personally, requires a long view of history and a belief that things can get better,” said Prof. Shapiro.
Board Member, Mr Modise Modise who is an Economist and a Former Permanent Secretary of Development at Office of the President, thanked the Board chairman for his message to the BHP community. “It is reassuring that the BHP and HSPH community realize that they cannot just restrict themselves to hard core health scientific research, but also take into serious consideration the social environment under which they operate. The benefits of solid scientific research in an unequal and unjust society would be seriously degraded,” he said.
The Dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH), Prof. Michelle Williams Chair of the BHP Board of Members thanked Prof. Shapiro for his message. “Despite the darkness of this moment, I take heart that we are continuing with our work together to construct a brighter, healthier and more just future, thanks for adding some light our day with your message,” she said. Prof. Sheila Tlou, Former Minister of Health and UNAIDS Regional Director who is the Co-Chairperson for the Global Health Prevention Coalition also appreciated the Board Chairman’s soothing message. “What has happened and is happening in the USA right now behoves us to reflect on and be part of creating a better, non-racist world for our children,” she said, noting that the spirit of the BHP and collaboration is a great inspiration.
For her part, Shahin Lockman said: “We are horrified and heartbroken at the cruel and senseless murder of George Floyd and so many others. Although I cannot know what it feels like to experience racism every day, I know that we must do whatever we can to listen, learn with humility, speak up, and use whatever energy and power we have to actively combat racism. I am so grateful to work with and be friends with so many of you.”
Former BHP Board Chairman, Prof. Max Essex also weighed in on the conversation thanking the Board members for sending their thoughts. Prof. Essex noted that while he is embarrassed by the events in US, bonds of friendship with the BHP comfort him. “The only saving aspect is that it makes me appreciate even more the true friendship and family-like bonds we have shared with BHP. At times like this, your love and kindness seem so important,” said Prof. Essex. Like a true father, he made the board aware that he is ready to share his insight for a just society. “Please let me know if I can do anything useful” was Prof. Essex’s parting words.
BHP Chief Executive (CEO) Dr Joseph Makhema commended the Board for reflecting on this important topic of racism and how it affects public health. He responded individually to their messages of comfort and thanked them for their continued wisdom and counsel as they serve in the BHP Board of Directors. He took the opportunity to further recognize Prof. Essex’s leadership. “As BHP patriarch you have led us to where we are, never ever having race or any prejudices against humanity cloud our relationships and focus for the mandate to serve humanity through our research and yes, true bonds of friendship over the many years,” he said.