Public Health Course Brings Students to Cuba
The UIC School of Public Health offered a new elective course in the summer of 2017 that provided graduate students a first-hand look at how Cuba delivers health care and public health programs. Public Health in Cuba, created in partnership with the Cuban National School of Public Health (ENSAP) in Havana, included in-class instruction at UIC as well as two weeks of coursework and field visits to health facilities and programs in Cuba. Seven students took the class, which was led by public health faculty members Judith Levy and Nadine Peacock.
The course was designed for students to learn how Cuba, despite having severely limited resources, has evolved into a system of free health care for its entire population at a level of quality on par with most high-income countries, including the United States. Areas of success include achievement of low maternal and infant mortality, control of infectious diseases, including HIV, a low physician-to-patient ratio, excellence in preventive medicine, and the delivery of efficacious community-based public health programs. Alyson Lofthouse, senior associate director of the global health program, observes, “There’s a lot we can learn from Cuba to help us improve the way we provide care and promote health in this country. Similarly, we maintain knowledge that we can share with our Cuban colleagues.”
Before traveling to Cuba, students spent two weeks at UIC preparing for their visit by learning about Cuba’s health care system through readings and instruction from UIC faculty and guest lecturers. In Cuba, students participated in lectures at ENSAP, and saw the health care system in action by visiting local clinics, hospitals and health-oriented organizations. “One nice feature of the course,” noted Dr. Levy, “is that the students were lodged at various ‘casas particulares,’ which are family-run homestays that allowed them to live and experience life in Cuba as members of the local Cuban community.”
Each student selected a special topic to delve into while in Cuba; upon returning to UIC, they presented their findings in a special session for faculty, staff, students, family and friends. “While in Cuba, we learned that their focus on a continuous and dynamic risk assessment of patients’ health status is one of the keys to their ability to appropriately allocate resources,” said Elizabeth DiNovis, a second year MPH student. “This constant evaluation of health status at individual and population levels is essential in informing the country’s health policies and priorities.”
Frances Lendacki, a second year MPH student who plans to pursue a PhD in public health, added, “Such boots-on-the-ground evaluations of public health intervention and risk-reduction strategies epitomize the spirit of community-based, participatory health that is emphasized throughout our UIC experience.”
The course is the first at UIC to bring students to Cuba, and UIC is only one of a handful of schools to do so across the nation. In 2015, the UIC School of Public Health and the National School of Public Health in Havana signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a partnership between the two schools to provide research and collaborative learning opportunities. The summer course, as well as faculty academic exchanges, are important outcomes of this partnership.
“We hope to offer this course next summer and to enroll students across the campus,” said Dr. Peacock. UIC SPH also intends to again bring Cuban public health researchers from the National School of Public Health to further share their expertise in providing public health services. “I know we are all grateful to have had the chance to witness the Cuban system firsthand and hope future students can keep the momentum going,” said Ms. Lendacki. “Visiting Cuba was a unique learning experience and I hope additional UIC students will be able to enjoy the same opportunity to observe these public health strategies in action,” Ms. DiNovis said.