Doctors and students from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School crossed an ocean to help save lives.
Botswana is one of the real success stories in Africa. But the country also has the second highest rates of HIV and AIDS infections in the world.
Botswana has turned to other countries for help, and the University of Pennsylvania has come on board in a big way. They walked through the alleys of a country thousands of miles away to a hospital very different from the one where they train.
Medical training and resources are limited, so when the government of Botswana was provided the funding for medication to help its people, it turned to Penn for help.
“They said they needed some doctors who knew how to administer the medicines and who were interested in participating by sending doctors. And that call changed so much for us, that one little call,” Dr. Harvey Friedman, director of Penn’s Botswana program, said.
Six full-time faculty members live in Botswana providing primary care and education.
Students get firsthand training in infectious disease and Penn is helping to develop a curriculum for Botswana’s first medical school.
“When we have our own medical school and we improve the conditions of service we hope that we will be able to retain many more of our people to work in the country,” Dr. Loeto Mazhani, deputy secretary of the Botswana Ministry of Health, said.
Mazhani and other members of his department are visiting Penn to develop essential nursing programs.
Students returning from Botswana said even with the overwhelming number of people who die, and the lack of access to tests and sophisticated equipment, they never felt overwhelmed.
“I think the hardest times were with my patients who were my age and dying of AIDS. They became my good friends because they were in the hospital for a long time,” Marah Gotesik, a fourth-year medical student, said. “But they had hope and they hadn’t given up; they weren’t just lying down. They were wonderful people with fiery personalities and it made me really believe that there is hope.”
A Penn medical student said the people and patients in Botswana were so gracious, appreciative, and kind that it made medicine fun again.
The students said they’ve been spoiled by western medicine. The work in Botswana made them learn to improvise and trust their instincts. The students said they’ll continue to use the skills they’ve learned as doctors in the U.S.
The University of Botswana Medical School is slated to open in August 2008.