8 October 2012

Botswana: Govt to Launch Health Hub With Support of Swiss NGO

Gaborone — Health research in Botswana has received a boost, with the forging of a new partnership between health and innovation organisations in Botswana and Switzerland.

The Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), a government-owned innovation centre, and the Geneva-based Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 23 August to promote health research and development.

The MoU sets out that the two organisations will work together towards the development of an HIV/AIDS centre of expertise at the Gabarone hub.

Director of Cluster Development at the BIH, Budzani Tacheba, said that through its wide range of support services, the HIV/AIDS centre would have a positive impact on ordinary Botswanans, both directly and indirectly.

The HIV prevalence rate for 15-49 year olds in Botswana is 24.8 per cent. In Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, there were an estimated 22.5 million [20.9 million-24.2 million] people living with HIV resided in 2009, representing 68 per cent of the global HIV burden.

The new partnership will also mobilise funds for research and innovation, and work to plug health research and development gaps - such as in biotechnology - through both virtual and actual engagement platforms.

Tacheba told SciDev.Net: "BIH has a mandate for establishing and managing a science and technology park in Gaborone, as well as for promoting research and development that is commercially viable and will have an impact on the country's [future] economic diversification and job creation efforts".

The science park project is under development with budgets already committed from the government but future developments will include private public partnerships towards achieving infrastructure.

International collaborations will also be a key focus: "The centre will coordinate a number of international networks comprised of researchers and funders," said Tacheba.

Carel IJsselmuiden, COHRED's executive director, said that BIH will tap into COHRED's expertise, "by using COHRED's information management system [...] to develop a comprehensive national database for research and innovation on health in Botswana."

This will have a positive socio-economic impact on communities, he said, by providing access to information and resources.

But Tachema highlighted that currently the MoU has no specific funding contractual engagements, merely identifying areas for collaboration, such as capacity building and training in the health sector.

Both organizations have not set aside funds under the MoU but funding shall be committed by both parties towards programs implementation and application for further resources elsewhere.

Shingu Phillips-Malikongwa, director of communications and advocacy at the Botswana-based African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACHAP), said the MoU would help turn Botswana into a strong HIV/AIDS centre for Sub-Saharan Africa, and that research outcomes from the initiative will be shared with other countries in the region.

However, she pointed out that funding could be a serious challenge, as there were no clear indications of where funding will originate from.

The BIH was conceived in 2008 but became operational in April 2012 with construction of the project office completed. Other constructions will begin in December.

This article has been produced by our Sub-Saharan Africa news desk.

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