The USF Health Panama Program: 10 years of building global partnerships to improve health, education and quality of life

On Thursday Oct. 13, USF Health celebrated 10 years of presence at the City of Knowledge, Panama. The event aimed to emphasize the common vision shared by USF Health leadership and many of the academic and research partners in Panama; it also featured a keynote address by guest professor Anne Firth Murray of Stanford University, human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Dr. Murray spoke eloquently about the economic impact of investing in women´s health and education across the life span.

Donna Petersen, ScD, senior associate vice president of USF Health, dean of the College of Public Health (COPH) and one of the founders of the Panama program, talked about how, through the recommendation of COPH alumna Dr. Arlene Calvo, she came to Panama and “was immediately inspired by the impact that public health had on the construction of the Panama Canal, Panama´s biodiversity, and more importantly the enthusiasm of those Panamanian visionaries, Dr. Rodrigo Tarté and Prof. Jorge Arosemena, who were starting to develop the City of Knowledge concept. That inspiration, turned into motivation to establish a USF presence with a global health focus at the City of Knowledge, the old U.S. Clayton Military Base, now transformed into a research and innovation park, a campus for foreign universities and the home of many international NGOs.

In his remarks, Charles Lockwood, MD, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, mentioned the “increased collaboration in education, research and clinical care between USF faculty and students and their counterparts in Panama as well as health professional and organizations across the Americas.” He then thanked the Panamanian partners for their continued support to help provide “research opportunities for more than 1,100 undergraduate and graduate students and medical residents as well as for over 175 faculty members from the USF and other U.S. institutions.”

USF Health Panama´s research and academic initiatives have trained more than 2,000 health professionals and field workers throughout Panama and the Latin American region.

Through the USF Health Panama Program, students across a variety of disciplines gain hands-on experience in rural or indigenous communities throughout Panama and conduct innovative research to complete their master’s and doctoral theses. They work alongside Panamanian physicians and health care workers in public and private hospitals, complete field studies in cooperation with humanitarian agencies, intern with business and industry leaders, and participate in service missions across the Panama region. USF faculty, affiliate faculty and alumni in Panama engage in cutting-edge research and health education grant projects on HIV/AIDS, Zika virus, malaria, influenza, dengue, domestic violence, cervical cancer, nutrition, diabetes, data systems, and policy analysis. Dr. Lockwood thanked Dr. Nestor Sosa, director of the Gorgas Memorial Research Institute for Health Studies (ICGES), for rich discussions on topics of joint interest and mentioned his interest in working more on vaccine development and other research areas of joint interest.

USF Health

During the evening reception, Dr. Anne Debaldo was recognized for her instrumental role in the development of the Health and Education International Foundation in Panama. In addition, partner institutions such as the Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies (ICGES), the National Secretariat of Science Technology and Innovation (SENACYT), INDICASAT, the City of Knowledge and the University of Panamá were specially honored for their years of joint collaboration and support.

The Ministry of Health, the National Obudsman’s (Defensoría del Pueblo) office, Vital Voices, the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC), Centauri Technologies, Forest Finance, the National Association against Cancer (ANCEC), PROBISIDA Foundation, UNICEF, The Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO), as well as faculty from the Oncological Institute (Instituto Oncológico), the Children´s Hospital (Hospital del Niño), the Social Security Hospitals , the Santo Tomás Hospital and Regional Health Centers were also recognized.

The Health and Education International Foundation Board members were present at the event, including President- Roberta Burford, JD, Vice-President Joann Strobbe, MsEd, Greg Vannette, CPA, Cristienn Joudaane, MBA, MS, Jay Evans, MBA, MPH, Lynette Menezes, PhD and Constance Visovsky, PhD, and the USF Health Panama team members Arlene Calvo, PhD, MPH; Aracely Quintero, BS; Jeanette Galvez, BS; Gladys Bernett, MBA, MHA, and alumni Morgan Hess Holtz, MS and Arturo Rebollón, MD, were also thanked for their dedication in advancing the USF’s mission in Panama.

Strong academic collaboration was the main highlight of the evening. There was potential and enthusiasm to keep working together on initiatives aimed at improving the health, education and quality of life of our communities, our hemisphere and the world.

Story by Gladys Bernett, video by Sandra C. Roa/ University Communications and Marketing, photos by Tarina Rodriguez