Introduction The global burden of cancer continues to increase in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Botswana, a middle-income country in SSA, has the second highest prevalence of HIV worldwide and has seen an increase in human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cervical cancer over the last decade in the setting of improved survival of HIV-infected women. There is an urgent need to understand more clearly the causes and consequences of HPV-associated cervical cancer in the setting of HIV infection. We initiated the Ipabalele ('take care of yourself' in Setswana) programme to address this need for new knowledge and to initiate long-term research programme capacity building in the region. In this manuscript, we describe the components of the programme, including three main research projects as well as a number of essential cores to support the activities of the programme. Methods and procedures Our multidisciplinary approach aims to further current understanding of the problem by implementing three complementary studies aimed at identifying its molecular, behavioural and clinical determinants. Three participant cohorts were designed to represent the early, intermediate and late stages of the natural history of cervical cancer. The functional structure of the programme is coordinated through programmatic cores. These allow for integration of each of the studies within the cohorts while providing support for pilot studies led by local junior investigators. Each project of the Ipabalele programme includes a built-in capacity building component, promoting the establishment of long-lasting infrastructure for future research activities. Ethics and dissemination Institutional review board approvals were granted by the University of Pennsylvania, University of Botswana and Ministry of Health and wellness of Botswana. Results will be disseminated via the participating institutions and with the help of the Community Advisory Committee, the project's Botswana advisory group.
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