Cuba Workshop Fosters Relationships, Collaborations and Commitment to Pursue Three Major Studies

In March, a delegation of nine UConn faculty members who are InCHIP affiliates traveled to Cuba for a five-day workshop designed to develop collaborative relationships between investigators at UConn and their counterparts in Cuba.

“The visit was the culmination of efforts by UConn Assistant Professor Tania Huedo-Medina, the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP), and the Office of Global Affairs,” said Deborah Cornman, Associate Director of InCHIP. A total of 10 researchers from Cuba, representing multiple institutions in Cuba, took part in the five-day workshop, with another ten Cuban researchers taking part for one day.

According to Huedo-Medina, Cuba has a unique healthcare system with a very developed and efficient public health infrastructure, and both the United States and Cuba have much to offer each other in the context of research methodologies, health system design and improving health outcomes. Cornman believes that this trip provided an opportunity to begin exchanging this knowledge and will hopefully mark the start of long-lasting research partnerships that will benefit the various investigators and universities involved, and the U.S. and Cuban nations as a whole.

The meeting, jointly organized by InCHIP and the Cuban Society of Psychology, began with a meet-and-greet on the evening of Sunday, March 12 and ran through Friday, March 17. Funding for the exchange was provided by UConn’s Office of Global Affairs, Office of the Vice President of Research, and InCHIP.

Over the course of five-day workshop, researchers from both countries made presentations about their work and took part in brainstorming sessions focused on identifying the gaps in the state of science and areas for future fruitful joint investigation. The primary goal of the trip was to foster the development of collaborative research projects between Cuban and UConn investigators in the areas of HIV, obesity, cancer, and substance use.

And that goal was achieved, according to Cornman who attended the workshop. “The trip was extremely successful. We developed some wonderful partnerships with our Cuban colleagues, and we are excited about the work that we are going to do together.”

At the conclusion of the workshop, Cuban and UConn investigators agreed to start work on three major research projects in Cuba. These projects will focus on developing a theory-based intervention to prevent risk behavior and increase treatment adherence among people living with HIV, identifying the factors associated with obesity in young adults, and determining the attitudes and social norms associated with smoking and alcohol abuse among university students. The questions posed in these projects have not been rigorously investigated before in the context of Cuban society, said Cornman, and they provide an opportunity for both UConn and Cuban researchers to learn from their counterparts – exchanging research expertise, cultural insights, and methodological innovations that, until recently, the Cuban and U.S. research communities have not been able to share with one another.

Beyond these three major studies, UConn faculty have continued working with Cuban investigators to identify common areas of interest and begin other projects. For example, UConn Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences and InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher, who attended the workshop, is now working with Psychologist Adriana Agramonte Machado of the University of Havana and other Cuba researchers on a project that will develop and evaluate an intervention targeted towards people with diabetes in Cuba to increase treatment adherence rates. Additionally, UConn Associate Professor of Allied Health and InCHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Michael Copenhaver is now collaborating with several Cuban investigators whom he met in Havana, on the development of a culturally-appropriate measure for neurocognitive impairment that can be used to assess the capacity of patients with HIV to fully understand and participate in various care and treatment programs.

“Cultural, geographic and language differences do not need to be barriers to researchers working effectively together on common public health issues,” Cornman said.

Huedo-Medina and Fisher visited Cuba in November 2015 and May 2016 to meet with professors and researchers from institutions across Cuba. During those and other trips that Huedo-Media made to Cuba, they worked with their Cuban counterparts to lay the groundwork for this very important workshop in March.

The University of Havana, Universidad Central “Marta Abreau” de Las Villas, Universidad de Oriente-Santiago de Cuba, and the Hermanos Ameijeiras University Surgical Hospital were among the Cuban institutions represented at the workshop. Other UConn faculty who participated in the workshop include: Lisa Butler, Associate Research Professor and InCHIP PI; Michael Fendrich, Associate Dean for Research and Professor at School of Social Work and InCHIP affiliate; Kim Gans, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and InCHIP PI; Meg Gerrard, Research Professor of Psychological Sciences and InCHIP PI; Debarchana Ghosh, Assistant Professor of Geography and InCHIP PI; and Rick Gibbons, Professor of Psychological Sciences and InCHIP PI.

Loretta Waldman, University of Connecticut, Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP)

June 30, 2017

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