Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary to the Botswana-UPenn Partnership!

As I mentioned in my first post, I spent this summer in Botswana working on a study looking at viral contributors to vulvar cancer. The head of the study is Dr. Carrie Kovarik, a Penn dermatologist and all-around superstar at life. I won’t blather on too much about my incredible summer (my other blog: has enough blathering to last a lifetime) but I will say that it was amazing and that it furthered my determination to make global health a part of my medical career.
Dr. Kovarik speaking about
telemedicine in Botswana

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Botswana-UPenn partnership: a collaboration between the government of Botswana and the university that has allowed students like me to spend time learning about research and health care in a developing country. In order to celebrate the past 10 years, Penn hosted a Ten Year Anniversary Symposium.

Needless to say, I was incredibly excited for this week’s events. I attended a grand rounds on viral contributors to cervical cancer, a presentation on research in Botswana, a seminar on ICT4D (Information and Communication technologies for development... this is actually an ongoing seminar series) and also a general symposium. While it was cool to hear more about what is going on in Bots, I was even more excited to see some familiar faces: doctors and friends who had flown all the way from Botswana to attend the events!

I also got to attend a meeting about telementoring which is something that I am very interested in. My mentor, the aforementioned Dr. Kovarik, is head of telemedicine for Botswana. While I was in Botswana I got involved with some amazing projects that fall under this umbrella:
  • There is a robotic microscope that we would load our dermatology tissue slides into and, via the internet, Dr. Kovarik could control its movements and read the slides from Philadelphia!
  • We celebrated Cynthia's first
    trip to the US with some Philly
  • Many speciality services like dermatology, dentistry (and oral pathology in general) and radiology are using mobile phones to take pictures of lesions or X-rays and get expert opinions from all over the world.
  • Smartphones are also starting to be used for telementoring: letting residents and doctors have access to medical “apps” that connect them to medical information and to each other.
I am currently helping with a study that deals with the last project and it was amazing to have the opportunity to meet with our Botswana-based constituents: Ryan Littman Quinn (photojournalist extrordinaire/Mobile Telemedicine Programs Manager in Botswana as well as a friend) and the newest member- Cynthia Antwi. The work that they are doing for telemedicine in Botswana is really exciting and I hope to be able to continue my involvement.

Given that we are currently in our renal block (fabled to be one of the hardest parts of the pre-clinical curriculum)... my brain is currently full of ions. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be able to stop thinking about potassium transporters and think about how to improve access to healthcare!

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