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Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University School of Medicine, one of President-elect Joe Biden's three co-chairs of his COVID-19 task force, has visited Cuba, published on US-Cuba medical collaboration, and praised the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).
As the United States has witnessed consecutive daily record increases in COVID-19 infections—nearing 10 million total cases, disproportionately impacting Black, Latinx, and Native communities—good news comes out of President-elect Joe Biden's campaign.
This morning, Biden announced his COVID-19 task force composition, which will be co-chaired by former FDA administrator David Kessler, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and associate professor and founding director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale University School of Medicine, Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Nunez-Smith, whose resume boasts impressive professional credentials, including leading various research centers and fellowship funds at Yale Medical School as well as invited professorships and presentations worldwide, has a curious feature in her background—engagement with Cuba's renowned medical system.
According to her faculty profile at Yale, Nunez-Smith attended a Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC) research delegation to Cuba in 2010 focused on physician workplace diversity and community-based primary care. Following the research delegation, during which Nunez-Smith participated in a "comprehensive agenda of activities to expose participants to several aspects of the Cuban health care delivery and medical education systems," she presented her findings in November 2011 at the 139th American Public Health Association Conference in Washington D.C.
Nunez-Smith and her colleagues' conference paper and presentations were titled, "Can increased access to community-based primary care and physician workforce diversity be achieved through support of U.S. international medical students and graduates: The Cuba experience."
In the presentation, Nunez-Smith discusses Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which "has created a novel opportunity for U.S. citizens, primarily racial/ethnic minorities, to attend medical school in Cuba at no cost with an explicit expectation of eventual practice in the U.S. in community-based primary care and underserved areas."
Her conference paper details the delegations' data collection activities, which "included site visits to community health centers, teaching hospitals and the schools of medicine and public health, meetings with key leaders in the Cuban health system, and ELAM students and leadership at the University."
Nunez-Smith concludes by asserting that "the tenets and organization of the Cuban medical education system may hold broader policy implications for the successful development of a robust primary care workforce in the U.S on the cusp of health care reform implementation and a demographically-shifting population."
Asides from her work on Cuba, Nunez-Smith has researched and practiced extensively throughout the Caribbean. She was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and continued her undergraduate, medical, and graduate studies in the United States. She has presented and/or performed research on health equity, racial discrimination in medical care, and the social determinants of health in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana, among others—many of whom sustain medical collaboration programs with Cuba.
As over a dozen U.S. city governments—including in Oakland, California, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cleveland, Ohio, and elsewhere—have called for US-Cuba medical, scientific, and clinical collaboration on COVID-19, which is ravaging poor and working-class communities of color nationwide, Nunez-Smith's recent appointment may auger a breakthrough moment not only to save lives but drastically improve US-Cuba relations in a post-Trump scenario.