UConn-Cuba program advances health promotion research

Collaboration between UConn and seven Cuban institutions is bearing fruit for collaborative research in health and other fields.

The international research team examined the impact of social determinants in the development of cancer, obesity, HIV and drug addiction, which are significant public health problems in Cuba and the United States.

They recently published an article on the fruitful connections and systemic exchanges between the two countries in Revista Cubana by Salud Pública (Cuban Journal of Public Health).

“We thought it would be great as it would bring a better understanding of the cultural barriers and socio-cultural aspects of Latin American populations, which could be very beneficial in developing better health promotion initiatives and reducing social inequalities in the community. world “, explains Tania Huedo-Medina, associate professor. of College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

Cuba and the United States have very different health systems. Cuba has a public health system, which means that all people, regardless of their income, have access to health care, with a particular emphasis on preventive care. The United States has an expensive private health care system that leaves many underinsured or uninsured.

However, the United States has access to more advanced medical technologies and resources than Cuba, an island often cut off from pharmaceuticals, new medical devices, and advanced medical technology.

Despite these challenges, Cuba is known as one of the most effective and innovative health systems in the developing world, including population health markers compare favorably with those of the we.

“They are two very different countries with many aspects in common,” explains Huedo-Medina.

Cuba also offers its citizens free university education. This means that Cuban citizens are generally more aware and informed about health prevention.

“It’s also very important because people are more aware and have more community support for healthy engagement,” Huedo-Medina said. “The community helps achieve more effective engagement in prevention. This is something that we need to do a better job of in the United States.

However, the team found health disparities by race and gender in Cuba and the United States.

The aim of this study is to understand the social factors at play and use them to develop more effective psychosocial interventions, building on the strengths of both countries.

It is essential to take into account socio-cultural differences when developing health promotion strategies. Individuals in different countries face different cultural considerations and social burdens that interventions still need to improve.

This research effort also concludes a study of an intervention in adolescent alcohol use in Cuba.

Huedo-Medina, Ph.D. student Aviana Rosen and project coordinator Ashley Holmes (CLAS ’20), worked with Cuban researchers Fabelo Roche and Ph.D. candidate Serguei Iglesias to test the well-known Transtheoretical model of behavior change by applying it to a new intervention.

The researchers studied a group of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 and held intervention sessions to teach them how to make traditional Cuban alcohol-free cocktails, for example. They found that these participants significantly reduced their intentions to consume alcohol and significantly increased their control over perceived alcohol consumption, as they were able to make non-alcoholic cocktails, while drinking and enjoying them with friends.

The next step in this study is to see if this new intervention can be implemented more broadly in Cuba and in a different cultural context – the United States.

The focus of this continued collaboration is to understand what these two countries can learn from each other. The research represents the start of a long and rewarding collaboration between UConn and institutions in Cuba, but there have been challenges along the way.

With the support and collaboration of UConn’s Office of Global Affairs and the Institute for Collaboration in Health Intervention and Policy (InCHIP), Huedo-Medina set this project in motion in 2016 after that President Obama opened up relations between the United States and Cuba, ending a decades-old embargo.

When President Trump overturned the Obama administration’s decision in 2017, much of the initiative was unfortunately put on hold.

Fortunately, Huedo-Medina, his doctorate. student, Aviana Rosen, and her collaborators at the University of Havana, the Center for Academic Development for Drug Use (CEDRO) at the University of Medical Sciences of Havana, and the Wellness Center of the The “Marta Abreu” Central University of Villas, were able to work on an ethnographic study on an academic-scientific collaboration between health researchers from Cuba and the United States. Collaborators reflected on psychosocial interventions to prevent the development of chronic diseases in Cuba and the United States. Researchers looked at cancer, obesity, HIV and drug addiction, especially alcohol use.

“We are grateful for the support of the University and our partners to move this project forward,” said Huedo-Medina. “The importance of developing bilateral relations between the two countries in the scientific and academic fields is that it strengthens respect and reciprocity,” said Huedo-Medina.

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