COVID-19 in Botswana
In Botswana, containing viral transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease, is an urgent priority. The in-country case count is still low, but neighboring South Africa already has seen significant community spread and is considered high risk for travel.
The people of Botswana have some of the world’s highest rates of tuberculosis and HIV infection, as well as rising rates of the chronic health conditions that may increase their risk of COVID-19 complications. In addition, like most countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana doesn’t have nearly enough intensive care beds, ventilators, or trained health care workers to manage a major outbreak.
Given these conditions, there is an urgent need to ensure epidemic preparedness. Our joint work in Botswana includes:
COVID-19 National Webinar Series
In April 2020, the Botswana-Rutgers Partnership for Health launched a series of webinars designed to quickly prepare Botswana’s frontline health workers with the knowledge, skills, and tools to combat COVID-19. These webinars were organized in collaboration with the Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness, the University of Botswana, and the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership. The interprofessional team of presenters includes experts from medicine, public health, and epidemiology, as well as government health officials. The program has enabled wide dissemination of information on COVID-19 preparedness, recovery, and resiliency.
Health Information Technology Needs Assessment
Building capacity for effective telehealth initiatives always has been a priority of the Botswana-Rutgers Partnership for Health. COVID-19 has increased the urgency of finding distance learning solutions.
The health information technology needs assessment involves evaluating the ability of health care facilities, especially in remote settings, to build the necessary technological infrastructure to support distance learning, telementoring, and telemedicine. This project will use an online survey and virtual meetings between stakeholders and health information technology experts in order to evaluate existing equipment, software, and bandwidth.
A second part of this project will involve testing an expansion of commercial bandwidth between the sites that will host these telehealth initiatives. These six sites are Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, the University of Botswana, and Botswana’s four main referral hospitals (Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, Letsholathebe Memorial Hospital in Maun, Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital in Francistown, and Sekgoma Memorial Hospital in Serowe).
Third, we will pilot a telementoring initiative that remotely connects Botswana’s primary care workforce to specialists in infectious diseases and COVID-19.
COVID-19 Health Care Workers Study
As part of the global effort to better understand COVID-19, we are launching a pilot study involving a cohort of health care workers in Botswana. Funded by the Rutgers Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, this research is parallel to a Rutgers study underway in New Jersey. A primary objective of the Botswana-Rutgers Partnership for Health study is to describe the human immune system’s response to SARS-CoV-2 in the health care worker cohort over a six-month period. By tracking the production of antibodies and how they relate to immunity, we can contribute to a better global understanding of whether and how previously exposed individuals become immune to COVID-19.
With additional funding, we aim to expand this cohort to include 600 health care workers throughout Botswana.