Cuban health officials visit UIC

Officials from the Cuban Ministry of Health shared their thoughts and impressions on how health care is delivered in the community settings they observed during their week-long visit to Chicago communities and meetings with University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System leaders.

The visit marked the launch of a new partnership, funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the University of Illinois Cancer Center, focused on the mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas on providing health care in under-resourced communities with the aim of improving community-based health care in both countries. The initial visit focused on maternal and infant health and cancer screening and prevention.

Cuban officials visited UI Health’s Mile Square Health Clinics on the West Side, in Englewood and Back of the Yards. They also met with leadership of the Infant Welfare Society, Chicago Department of Public Health, Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation and Illinois Medical District.

The visit marked the first time Cuban health officials have observed how health care is delivered in low-resource communities in the U.S. with the aim of collaborating on the development of improved care delivery systems that can be used in both countries.

“Just a short time ago it would have been very hard to imagine members of the Cuban Ministry of Health visiting Chicago to observe and exchange ideas with community health leaders here at UI Health and in Chicago, but this week, we are watching as exactly that comes to pass,” said UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis. “The sharing of knowledge across borders and cultures is a practice we value very highly at UIC, and we take pride in participating in and fostering this historic exchange.”

The Health Ministry delegates and UI Health and local Chicago community leaders discussed how the mutual exchange of best practices in delivering quality health care in underserved communities can help reduce infant mortality rates and improve maternal health and cancer screening and surveillance programs.

“Delivering quality care in underserved communities with a focus on reducing health disparities is at the very foundation of what UI Health is all about, and is embodied by our community-based Mile Square Health Centers,” said Robert Barish, vice chancellor for health affairs at UIC.

Robert Winn, associate vice chancellor of community-based practice at UI Health and director at the University of Illinois Cancer Center, said “the Cuban health system does preventive health very, very well, and they do it without a lot of money.

“We are hoping to work with our Cuban counterparts to identify practices that have worked for them, and also let them observe some of the ways we deliver health care that may be very different from how they operate, in the hopes that this exchange will lead to improved health for populations in both our countries,” Winn said.

“This visit has only been made possible by President Obama’s work to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, and we are proud to be engaging in this historic exchange for the benefit of the people in each of our countries, but also to cement and confirm President Obama’s legacy,” said Winn, who, with Kathy Tossas-Milligan, director of the UI Cancer Center’s Office of International Cancer Health Equity Partnerships, was recently invited to the White House to honor the opening of relations with Cuba.

During a community meeting Friday, the Cuban officials discussed the Cuban system for delivery of community-based health care and described how they might incorporate practices they observed during their Chicago visit. They also shared Cuban practices they believe may help improve community-based care in Chicago.

The partnership received significant support from Sen. Richard Durbin, U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Robyn Kelly and Barbara Lee, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrisey, Illinois Medical District Executive Director Dr. Suzet McKinney, and others.

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