BOTSOGO: Improving Cancer Care and Advancing Research in Botswana

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By Milo Goodman
Research Institute Communications Intern

The Botswana Oncology Global Outreach (BOTSOGO) is a collaborative program between the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) that works to increase education about, access to, and quality of cancer care in Botswana.

The program, which was established in 2011, was co-founded and is co-directed by Dr. Jason Efstathiou of MGH and Dr. Scott Dryden-Peterson of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

By assisting medical professionals in Botswana and conducting on-site clinical research, BOTSOGO aims to create a comprehensive cancer control plan for the country.

While cancer is known as a worldwide health epidemic, the problem is uniquely magnified in Botswana. With approximately 25% of adults infected, the African country has the second highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world.

While HIV treatment increases the lifespan of patients by reducing immunosuppression and preventing infection, cancer remains much more common in those living with HIV; over 60% of new cancer cases in Botswana are due to HIV-associated malignancies. Women with HIV in particular have a higher risk of prolonged human papillomavirus
infection (HPV) and, consequently, invasive cervical cancer.

Until recently, practitioners in Botswana lacked the facilities, resources, and training needed to treat the high amount of cancer cases they encountered. The BOTSOGO team partnered with physicians in Botswana to ensure that they are fully trained in brachytherapy, an advanced form of local radiation therapy that treats cancer via radioactive implants that are placed directly into the affected tissue.

Brachytherapy is especially effective for the treatment of cervical cancer, and this training has allowed doctors in Botswana to treat up to 50 patients each month with the help of a full-time on-site medical oncologist from MGH.

BOTSOGO stays involved with the care of cancer patients in Botswana through annual oncology symposiums as well as monthly Tumor Boards – internet-based clinical conferences that include multiple sites in both Botswana and the United States.

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The conversation typically revolves around the stories of specific patients, as the audio-visual feed allows medical professionals on opposite sides of the world to look at the
same pathology images. Through the connective power of technology, they work together to review, diagnose, and treat difficult cases.

These events are free and open to the public, and while many actively participate in the discussion, those who are interested in observing are also welcome to attend.

For more information on BOTSOGO, please visit their website http://www.botsogo.org/

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