The MEDICC conference—A Healthy Cuba, Healthy World: Linking Culture, Community and Cooperation—is slated for December 3–9 at the Meliá Varadero Hotel, with site visits to cities of Matanzas and Cárdenas. The event celebrates two decades of work by the US nonprofit MEDICC, which fosters cooperation among the US, Cuban and global health communities.
The organizers take the WHO’s broad view of health and well-being, reflected in a wide-ranging program that includes conversations with founders of Cuban public health and biotech, discussions on challenges of urban living and women’s role in society, and presentation by Dr. Jorge Pérez of his book A Doctor and His Patients Talk about AIDS in Cuba.
“The event is designed to reflect the holistic nature of health and to attract US and other professionals from a wide variety of experience and expertise,” says MEDICC Executive Director Dr. C. William Keck. “Thus, we’re not confining exposure to Cuba to the conference rooms. We’ve invited an array of Cuban creators to join us: artists, musicians, community organizers and even chefs.”
The meeting falls into the “professional research/professional meetings” travel category, one of 12 categories still permitted to visit Cuba by the US Department of the Treasury.
“We urge people to attend, since we all can contribute with our travel to a positive relationship with one of our closest neighbors,” said Keck. “This is an opportunity to get to know Cubans first-hand. The contribution participants leave behind will also help the island’s hurricane recovery,” he stressed.
MEDICC was established in 1997, after its founders published the American Association of World Health’s report Denial of Food & Medicine: The Impact of the U.S. Embargo on Health and Nutrition in Cuba.
Since then, the organization has concentrated on four main programs: travel to Cuba for health professionals and their institutions (Gateways), leading to greater bilateral health cooperation; the peer-reviewed journal MEDICC Review, publishing research and perspectives by Cuban and developing-country authors, indexed by MEDLINE and other services; a national network involving leaders of US medically underserved communities, who travel to Cuba for insights into how to improve health and health equity back home (Community Partnerships for Health Equity, now in 12 US cities); and support for students and graduates of Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine, which has now graduated nearly 30,000 socially committed physicians (MD Pipeline to Community Service, designed for the 200 US students and graduates, plus support for graduates in Honduras of the Garífuna indigenous communities, community-based Haitian graduates and Salvadoran graduates involved in their country’s first national study of the mysterious chronic kidney disease that has already felled 20,000 subsistence farmers).
In 2016, a MEDICC white paper was instrumental in President Obama´s October decision to broaden possibilities for collaborative medical research between US and Cuban centers, and to allow Cuban medications to flow through the FDA’s normal regulatory process. In turn, this led to the signing of a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health.
MEDICC leaders say that bilateral health cooperation is vital to Americans as well as Cubans, pointing to Cuban biotech advances against lung cancer and diabetic foot ulcers, as well as the need for joint work to reduce risks in disasters and the threat of epidemics.
Gail Reed is founder of Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC), a US non-profit fostering cooperation among the US, Cuban and global health communities to improve health equity worldwide, including the USA. She is currently MEDICC’s Country Representative for Cuba and Executive Editor and journalist for MEDICC Review, publishing peer-reviewed work by Cuban and other developing-country health professionals. Ms. Reed produced ¡Salud!, winner of the Council on Foundation’s Henry Hampton Award; delivered a 2014 TEDMED talk (Where to train the world’s doctors? Cuba) and authored a 300-page study on the US embargo’s impact on health in Cuba. She has made Cuba her professional base for 30+ years, served as consultant to The Atlantic Philanthropies Population Health Program and in a similar capacity for various US foundations and UNICEF-Cuba. She has worked for NBC News and Business Week, and holds an MS in journalism from Columbia University.