Last month, Rutgers Global Health Institute’s Botswana team was selected to receive up to $25,000 in grant funding from UICC’s (Union for International Cancer Control) SPARC MBC Challenge for its “Improving Timely Access to Care for Women with Advanced Stage Breast Cancer in Botswana” research study.

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women in Botswana, mostly due to significant delays in referral, diagnosis, and treatment initiation. While several initiatives are underway in Botswana to improve cancer care and prevention services, there is no national focus on addressing the unique and pressing needs for patients with metastatic breast cancer. The selected project aims to improve timely access to care for patients with advanced breast cancer by identifying and addressing gaps in information and support, as well as to achieve shared decision making and improved compliance with available treatments.

Tendani Gaolathe, project lead

“We believe the outcomes of our research will have broad applicability to improve timely access to breast cancer care in Botswana and in other countries facing similar challenges,” says the project’s lead, Tendani Gaolathe.

Since the SPARC program launch in 2015, more than $1.5 million has been granted to cancer organizations to support projects addressing the needs of metastatic breast cancer patients. This year, 11 cancer organizations from 10 countries were selected to enter the global program and slated to receive grant funding of up to $25,000 each. The program’s Selection Advisory Group reviews and evaluates submissions based on four main criteria: feasibility, clarity, potential for impact, and sustainability.

Administratively supported by the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, the Botswana team will use the grant to fund a multifaceted approach to understand information and support knowledge gaps in breast cancer care at the patient, clinician, and health system levels. The approach will use data from focus groups to better understand the challenges confronting cancer care and prevention services in Botswana, such as medication and chemotherapy stock outs, minimal pathology services, and delays in follow-up care. Additionally, patient navigators will be put in place to improve and assist with support, connect to resources based on individual needs, provide medical guidance, close the gap of treatment compliance, and facilitate early diagnostic testing.

The Botswana research team includes: Tendani Gaolathe, project lead and country representative for the Botswana-Rutgers Partnership for Health and the Botswana Harvard Partnership; Kirthana Sharma, senior research manager; Refeletswe Lebelonyane, research fellow; Tlotlo Ralefela, head of oncology at Princess Marina Hospital in Botswana; Lynnette Kyokunda, head of pathology at the University of Botswana School of Medicine; Irene Sethlako, physician at Princess Marina Hospital; Atlang Mompe, research assistant; and Richard Marlink, director of Rutgers Global Health Institute.

Read more about the SPARC grant and this year’s recipients on UICC website.