Surgeon General Discusses Humanitarian Assistance in Botswana
By Cmdr. Cappy Surette, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Public Affairs
GABORONE, Botswana - International government officials, military officers, and health industry leaders gathered at the University of Botswana Dec. 7-10 for a first of its kind Medical Ethics Conference hosted in the country and developed in partnership with the U.S. Navy.
The goal of the conference was to bring together practitioners from Botswana with experts in healthcare, medicine and research from around the world to discuss integrity and ethical issues related to these professions.
"Medical science has led to advancements in knowledge and improvements in health and human life, yet each day, practitioners in the areas of healthcare, medicine and research confront difficult questions that need responses as they seek to conduct themselves in ways that are expected by society," said Prof. Bojosi Otlhogile, University Vice Chancellor. "I have no doubt that this conference will add to the overall quality of life of Botswana and Southern Africa.
Botswana, a sparsely populated, semi-arid country about the size of Texas, became independent in 1966 and is a model for how an African nation can utilize its natural resources for the benefit of its citizens. The country is a partner in the fight against HIV/AIDS on the African continent but acknowledges that more must be done to overcome the epidemic. Botswana's leaders also continue to look for innovative ways to face the threats of malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, and various other infectious diseases.
South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu opened the conference with a presentation about human illness and the fragility of life where he acknowledged the tremendous global healthcare challenges facing practitioners but reminded all present not to forget that sick people are human beings above all else.
"We must remember that people are more than a physical body or a biological machine," said Tutu. "We must remember that the people in front of you seeking [medical] care are complex individuals with a bundle of emotions."
Vice Adm. Adam Robinson, Navy Surgeon General, provided a keynote address and discussed the critical need for establishing global partnerships to meet common challenges.
"In this uncertain world, the United States and other nations have continued to forge greater bonds of trust and cooperation with people and countries around the world to contribute to the common good," said Robinson. "It is a common good symbolized by this Medical Convention - a first of its kind here in Botswana, a truly remarkable gathering of government officials, military officers, and industry leaders to discuss healthcare issues that we all must meet head on."
Robinson discussed the concept of humanitarian assistance and how by helping those in need around the world, the United States not only helps bolster stability but also works to create conditions of hope, which are the foundations of healthy societies.
"Navy Medicine, along with the rest of the U.S. Department of Defense, realizes that the promotion of world peace is dependent upon establishing the conditions of security and stability," said Robinson. "Where there is security and stability, we also find hope."
The conference focused on areas of medicine and healthcare that are key in the reduction of human suffering by eradicating diseases. Much attention was given to the value of scientific research that has led to countless advancements in knowledge and improvements in human health and life.
"Over the years The University of Botswana has led the way to explore ways and methods to bring improved healthcare to its people and the people of Africa," said Navy Capt. Bruce Cohen, Commanding Officer, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center. “We have made tremendous strides and will continue to foster new relationships, take on new challenges, and celebrate new successes in our health care partnerships worldwide."
In addition, the conference addressed the role of science and diplomacy and discussed opportunities to integrate ethics and integrity into institutional and national policies and programs.
"This conference will go a long way to bolstering our already strong relationship with the people of Botswana," said U.S. Ambassador Stephen J. Nolan. "It was significant for the University of Botswana to host such a major gathering that brought together so many leading practitioners and thinkers about ethics in health, medicine and research. The conference put the University on the map and also highlighted the important role played by U.S. Navy Medicine."
The presentations by international healthcare leaders were complemented by panel discussions, an educational technology exposition and poster presentations, which ran throughout the duration of the conference. After the conference, delegates had the opportunity to visit some facilities in Gaborone including Botswana Baylor Children's Clinical Centre of Excellence, Princess Marina SOS Children's Home and Happy Home.