US scientists explore research partnerships with Cuba
November / December 2015 | Volume 14, Issue 6
By Ann Puderbaugh
PHILADELPHIA - The recent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations may provide opportunities to expand scientific partnerships between the countries, a topic explored in a panel discussion at the recentAmerican Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) annual meeting.
"Cooperation in health and science focuses our efforts on a goal that's easy to understand and share - the goal of a healthier world," noted Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, who is Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at HHS. "Our close proximity means that we share waters and are impacted by the same environmental factors and the same tropical storms. As travel increases, communicable diseases will move even more between our countries and collaboration will be increasingly important."
With a life expectancy on a par with the U.S., Cuba has useful lessons to offer, Kolker observed. "It is exceptionally important that Cuba became the first country ever in the whole world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis."
Cuba is also renowned globally for its expertise in disaster response. It mobilized the Cuban Medical Brigade to combat the Ebola outbreak where, in some instances, Cubans worked side-by-side with Americans. "We witnessed science in action most recently in West Africa," said Fogarty Director Dr. Roger I. Glass, who moderated the discussion. "Imagine if you could, dream if you will, Cuban physicians working in an American hospital to address a global threat."
Leading Cuba's Ebola response was Dr. Jorge Delgado, who said 12,000 Cuban health care workers volunteered for the mission because "human beings are human beings." About 250 were selected and traveled to West Africa after training. One died of cerebral malaria while on duty there.
In the last 55 years, the Brigade has worked in 160 countries, treated countless patients and saved an estimated 5 million lives, Delgado noted. The Brigade has responded to numerous hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other disasters around the globe.
The life expectancy of Cubans is similar to the U.S., so Cuban health officials are facing the same health problems as the U.S. - an aging population, reported Dr. Lupe Guzman, the head of virology at the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine in Havana. Of the country's 11 million inhabitants, nearly 20 percent are older than 60, and that's expected to rise to about one-third of the population in the next 50 years. Cancer is already among the top three causes of death in her country, Guzman said.
With chronic, noncommunicable diseases a shared interest, there are numerous promising areas for research collaboration, Kolker proposed. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's pose huge health and resource issues for both countries. Cuba's planned national dementia registry and the U.S. Brain Initiative may find common ground, he said.
Infectious diseases - such as chikungunya, dengue and flu - remain challenging for the U.S. and Cuba. With tourism to the island nation bringing more than 3 million visitors each year, and expected to rise, diseases are spreading faster. Scientists could make quicker progress by working together, Guzman noted, "We have some relationships and ongoing collaborations, the point is to increase and strengthen this."
Nurturing these partnerships is the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), WHO's regional office for the Americas. "It's a great opportunity to advance collaborations, increase people-to-people contacts and make significant contributions to global health," said Dr. Marcos Espinal, PAHO's director of communicable diseases. "PAHO is very pleased to be a broker between these two member states."
Indeed, PAHO - together with ASTMH - sponsored the Cuban scientists' travel to the U.S. to speak at the conference, the first Cubans ever to participate in the annual Trop Med meeting. It was a momentous occasion, said Guzman. "Many times, we have met in Cuba or some other place, but to meet here is very special."
Despite the improved relations between the two countries, Kolker injected a note of caution that progress may be slower than desired. "Diplomatic relations are not a light switch that can be turned on," he noted. "Trust needs to be built; it cannot be taken for granted. And I look forward to facilitating that trust and understanding."
- View the session details of the Cuba-U.S: Building Bridges through Science and Global Health Symposium held during the 2015 American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) annual meeting.
- Learn more about the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
- Access a collection of resources, news and funding related to the Western Hemisphere region from Fogarty.
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On behalf of the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the following funding opportunities, notices and announcements may be of interest to those working in the field of global health research. Updates are typically distributed once a week.
Top NIH Funding News
Important news from NIH for all grantees.
NIH funding opportunities focusing on global health and foreign collaboration, and related news.
- Planning grants: Emerging Epidemic Virus Research Training for West African Countries with Widespread Transmission of Ebola (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone)
Application Receipt/Submission Date(s): February 24, 2016
- Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Research Fellowships in Japan offer U.S. citizen and permanent resident researchers to conduct cooperative research under Japanese host researchers in Japan. Applications are accepted at Fogarty, which acts as a nominating authority for JSPS programs.
Application deadline: March 1, 2016
- Notice of Technical Assistance Webinar for RFA-HL-16-012 Household Air Pollution (HAP) Health Outcomes Trial (UM1) (NOT-HL-15-285)
Friday, December 4, 2015 at 3 PM ET
The webinar will be archived for those unable to attend.
NIH funding opportunities for which foreign organizations, foreign components of U.S. organizations and/or other foreign components may apply.
- Pediatric Diagnostic Biomarkers for Active Pulmonary TB Disease (R01) (RFA-AI-15-057)
Application Receipt Date(s): 3/11/2016
- Revision Applications for Validation of Mobile/Wireless Health Tools for Measurement and Intervention (R01) (PA-16-043)
Application Receipt/Submission Date(s): Standard dates apply
- Drug Discovery For Nervous System Disorders (R01) (PAR-16-041) and (R21) (PAR-16-042)
Application Receipt/Submission Date(s): Standard dates apply
- Image-guided Drug Delivery (R01) (PAR-16-044)
Application Receipt/Submission Date(s): June 21, 2016; November 22, 2016; and more
- BRAIN Initiative: Non-Invasive Neuromodulation:
NIH funding news that may be relevant to global health researchers.
- Save the Date for the 2016 NIH Regional Seminar in Baltimore, Maryland - May 11-13, 2016 (NOT-OD-16-026)
Full details: 2016 NIH Regional Seminar in Baltimore, Maryland
- Clarifying NIH Priorities for Health Economics Research (NOT-OD-16-025)
- Notice of Intent to Publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement for Behavioral & Integrative Treatment Development Program (R01) (NOT-DA-16-004)
- Revised SF424 (R&R) Application Guides and Supplemental Instructions Available for Application Due Dates On and Between January 25, 2016 and May 24, 2016 (NOT-OD-16-029)
- Notice of an Update to the Key Dates in RFA-AI-15-055 "B Cell Immunology Program for HIV-1 Vaccine Development (BCIP) (R01)" (NOT-AI-16-010)
- Planning for Regional Centers of Research Excellence in Noncommunicable Diseases in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (P20) (RFA-CA-15-007) from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Application deadline: December 10, 2015
- NEW > Emerging Global Leader Award for LMIC scientists
Application deadline: December 16, 2015
- Global Brain Disorders Research R21 and R01
Application deadline: January 5, 2016
- Household Air Pollution (HAP) Health Outcomes Trial (UM1) (RFA-HL-16-012)from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Application deadline: January 19, 2016
- Cancer Detection, Diagnosis and Treatment Technologies for Global Health (UG3/UH3)
from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Application deadline: February 9, 2016
- NEW > Planning Grant for Emerging Epidemic Virus Research Training for West African Countries with Widespread Transmission of Ebola (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone)
Application deadline: February 24, 2016
- Research Fellowships in Japan supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)
Application Deadline: March 1, 2016
- International Research Scientist Development Award (IRSDA) for US scientists
Application deadline: March 2, 2016
- Global Infectious Disease Research Training Program
Application deadline: July 29, 2016