Workshop in Havana, Cuba Fosters Development of Collaborative Relationships and Commitment to Pursue Important Research Projects in Health Behavior

By Loretta Waldman

Cuban and UConn Collaborators on final day of Workshop

In March 2017, a delegation of nine UConn faculty members who are InCHIP affiliates traveled to Cuba for a five-day networking workshop designed to develop collaborative relationships between investigators at UConn and their counterparts in Cuba.  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.

This workshop represented the culmination of months of effort by InCHIP Affiliate Tania Huedo-Medina, PhD (Allied Health Sciences and Statistics), InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher, PhD (Psychological Sciences), UConn Global Affairs, and numerous other UConn faculty and staff, who worked diligently with those in Cuba to lay the groundwork for this very important workshop. Funding for the workshop was generously provided by Global Affairs, Office of the Vice President of Research, and InCHIP.

The workshop, which was co-hosted 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. Over the course of the five-day workshop, researchers from both countries made presentations about their research 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 Dr. Fisher 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.”

Rick Gibbons
UConn Professor and InCHIP PI Rick Gibbons presenting at Workshop

Beyond these four studies, UConn faculty have continued working with Cuban investigators to identify common areas of interest and begin other projects. For example, InCHIP Principal Investigator Michael Copenhaver, PhD (Allied Health Sciences) is now collaborating with several Cuban investigators whom he met in Havana, on the development of a culturally-appropriate measure of 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.

The University of Havana, Universidad Central “Marta Abreau” de Las Villas, Universidad de Oriente-Santiago de Cuba, and Hermanos Ameijeiras University Surgical Hospital were among the Cuban institutions represented at the workshop. In addition to Dr. Fisher and Dr. Copenhaver, the following UConn researchers participated in the workshop:  Lisa Butler, Associate Research Professor and InCHIP PI; Deborah Cornman, InCHIP Associate Director and Associate Research Professor; 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, Associate Professor of Geography and InCHIP PI; and Rick Gibbons, Professor of Psychological Sciences and InCHIP PI.

The collaborative projects that came out of the workshop not only address important public health issues in Cuba, they provide an opportunity for UConn and Cuban researchers to exchange research expertise, methodological innovations, and insights about the two cultures that, until recently, the Cuban and U.S. research communities had not been able to do. “Cultural, geographic, and language differences do not need to be barriers to researchers working together on common public health issues,” stated Dr. Cornman. “This trip will hopefully mark the beginning of long-lasting research partnerships that will benefit the various investigators and universities involved, and the U.S. and Cuban nations as a whole.”