The Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) on the 2nd June 2022 hosted a Press Conference to celebrate its milestone achievements realized over the years since the establishment of the research institute in 1996. Twenty-six years later, BHP has grown to become a world- renowned public health institute that has contributed significantly to knowledge generation through clinical and laboratory research whose outcomes have influenced public health policies in Botswana and globally. Briefing the media on the BHP landmark achievements, BHP Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Joseph Makhema applauded BHP Scientists and staff, BHP partners and collaborators for these achievements and their commitment towards the mandate of the institution.
He commended them on the excellent attainments and recognition of the BHP as a key player in HIV/AIDS research especially on the prevention of HIV vertical transmission, HIV/AIDS treatment, care and prevention, both locally and globally.
“These successes have been further highlighted by the discovery of the Omicron variant of SARS- CoV-2 by Dr Sikhulile Moyo and his team at the BHP,” said Dr Makhema who attributed BHP’s success to collaborations with various stakeholders across the world, leveraging on each other’s capabilities and specialties to deliver the BHP research mandate.
The partnerships include research institutions and Universities both locally and abroad. “Partnership and networking is one of our key strategic themes and is at the core of our mandate” Dr Makhema continued. BHP was established through a partnership between the Botswana Ministry of Health and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) Harvard University in the United States of America.
The global recognition of the discovery of the Omicron variant by Laboratory Director, Dr Sikhulile Moyo and promptly alerting the world of this highly mutating variant has resulted in Dr Moyo jointly with Prof Tulio D’Oliviera from RSA( who independently also discovered the Omicron) being recognized by the TIME Magazine by listing them individually amongst TIME 100 list of 100 most influential people around the world in the year 2022.
BHP took a leading role in COVID-19 testing and SARS- CoV-2 surveillance to study the SARS-C0V-2 virus and advise on appropriate strategies to contain the spread. “The discovery of the Omicron was a result of our robust COVID-19 genomic surveillance which we leveraged on our rich experience in HIV surveillance that we have been conducting over the years,” said Dr Makhema.
BHP also led the identification of the HIV subtype circulating in Botswana in 1996 and has been instrumental in influencing and contributing to development of appropriate policies for HIV/AIDS treatment, care and management over the years in Botswana. Through a series of studies including “The Mashi and Mmabana Studies.” BHP influenced the global health policy on vertical HIV transmission as well as infant breastfeeding which has helped in significant reduction of vertical HIV transmission from 40% in the year 2001 to less than 1% by 2020 resulting in Botswana receiving the WHO award for near elimination of vertical HIV transmission on the 2nd December 2021.
BHP also contributed immensely on capacity building for health workers on HIV /AIDS knowledge through the KITSO and the Master Trainer programmes which trained different health care cadres including; Medical Practitioners, Nurses, Pharmacists, and Laboratory scientists. The latter group facilitating ultimate decentralization of laboratory HIV testing capacity from the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory to District Hospital Laboratories.
Further capacity building and training, has been facilitated through BHP solicited Capacity building initiatives and grants from the Wellcome Trust, European Development Capacity Training Programme, The United States National Institute of Health Fogarty Training programme and through collaboration with partner Universities to train Master of Science, Doctor of Philosophy ,Post Doctorate Fellowships and next generation research scientists and investigators. BHP has trained at least 10 Masters and 10 PhDs over the last ten years. BHP staff is also involved in different Ministry of Health Technical Committees where they give expert advise on different technical and policy issues.