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Drexel Professor Secures Cuba Trip for Students to Study Health System

February 23 2016

A view of Havana, Cuba.
A view of Havana, Cuba.

President Barack Obama won’t be the only American visiting Cuba soon.

A class of 15 to 20 students from Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health will travel to the island nation this summer to study the way that the Cuban health system works when compared to the system in the United States.

“Cuba is known to have one of the most effective and efficient health systems in the world. They also promptly sent health care workers to address global health emergencies, such as ebola in West Africa,” said Shannon Marquez, PhD, associate vice provost for Global Health and International Development and director of the Dornsife School of Public Health’s Office of Global Health. “Our class is a global health integration module. It’s a course that provides a comparative and intensive field experience that will give students knowledge about preventative nature of the Cuban health systems and the interventions that have been modeled across other low and middle-income countries.”

Marquez, a faculty member in the Dornsife School of Public Health's Environmental and Occupational Health program, will teach the class along with Drexel College of Medicine’s Yanick Vibert, DO, and Veronica Flake, MD, a graduate of the Latin American Medical School in Havana who now lectures at the Dornsife School of Public Health’s Global Health program.

Spanning two weeks, the course isn’t a typical study abroad experience, Marquez explained, but an intensive course with the explicit goal of analyzing and learning from the health and environmental issues in Cuba.

Part of what makes the Cuban system unique and renowned is that its isolation from many world economies has meant that doctors have had to do more with less for decades. 

“It’s really going to be phenomenal. We’re going to be able to learn more about how the Cuban health model has succeeded against all odds,” Marquez said. “The family medicine model used in Cuba has been used in many developing countries around the world because of the focus on public health, prevention and the integration of environmental health at the primary care level.”

One country that utilizes Cuba’s system model is Gambia, which has been the subject and destination of this comparative health course in the past. In fact, the course is split into two sections, with the section not going to Cuba returning to Gambia and Senegal this year.

The application and registration process for the course was recently announced, and Marquez expects there to be a large pool of applicants.

Studying in Cuba has been a long time coming. Even before there were whispers of renewed diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, Marquez had been building relationships to make such a visit possible. She was at work for the last five years, culminating in December with an official partnership between Drexel and La Universidad de Cienfuegos to facilitate the experience.

Marquez believes her efforts will be worth it, as students will gain a new perspective that they might be able to apply to the American health system in their careers.

“Our country has been challenged by health inequities and addressing health disparities,” she said. “The Cuban model has worked well and produces impressive outcomes; This program will be a good opportunity for our students to learn more about cost-effective, holistic and integrated approaches focused on prevention rather than cure.”