Earlier this week, Christian Stillson, MPH student, presented the preliminary findings of his capstone research to a TB/HIV Partnership Forum hosted by the Botswana Ministry of Health. Present at the forum were representatives from the Botswana Ministry of Health, Botswana National TB Program, US Centers for Disease Control, UNAIDS, as well as nongovernmental and university organizations such as ACHAP, I-TECH, Botswana-Harvard, Botswana-Baylor, and Botswana-UPenn.
Christian’s research has been investigating the experience of caregivers for children currently on treatment for tuberculosis in and around Gaborone, Botswana. While representing only ten percent of new tuberculosis infections, children account for a disproportionate number of deaths attributable to the disease. This is for a variety of reasons, including challenges to diagnosis and rapid progression of the disease in children. The impetus for this project was the high mortality rate for children diagnosed with tuberculosis in Gaborone. Without the burden of multidrug resistance, tuberculosis remains very treatable in this setting, making the 18% mortality rate all the more alarming. As these children are often too young to manage their own six-month treatment, this responsibility rests with their caregiver.
Aiming to capture the experience of being one of these caregivers, Christian worked closely with Dr. Andrew Steenhoff of the and Dr. Rosemary Frasso of CPHI to develop a research protocol and boarded a plane for Botswana. Since arriving in May, Christian has collaborated with colleagues at the Botswana-UPenn Partnership to identify and interview the caregivers of children being treated for tuberculosis in both urban and suburban clinics. Alongside his counterpart, senior pediatric TB research nurse Malebogo Ntshimane, they have conducted over 25 interviews so far.
When he returns this fall, Christian will continue to work with Dr. Frasso to analyze the data. He hopes that the experiences described by these caregivers will lead to a greater understanding of the challenges they face and how those challenges can be addressed, leading to more effective treatment programs for pediatric tuberculosis.