USF Health Drives Panama Canal Centennial Forum

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USF Health partnered with the Panama Canal Authority and the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health to organize an historic forum commemorating the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Panama Canal.

The May 29 convention brought together a distinguished group of international scholars and attracted more than 250 participants. It included authorities from the USF College of Public Health, Panamanian Ministry of Health, the Panama Canal Authority, the Pan-American Health Organization, City of Knowledge, former ministers of health, directors of Panamanian hospitals and the Social Security Administration, and leaders from local and regional universities.

(back row from left): Morgan Hess-Holtz, MPH (USF Health); Dr. John Petrila (USF COPH), Jay Evans, MBA, MPH (USF COPH), Dr. Jorge Motta (Gorgas Panama), Dr. Ilenia Forero, MSPH; Dr. Lissette Chang, MSPH; Dr. Roderick Chen, MSPH; Dr. Lorna Jenkins, MSPH; Dr. Juan Pascale (Gorgas Panama); Dr. Silvio Vega (CSS Panama); Prof. Jorge Arosemena (City of Knowledge); Dr. Nestor Sosa (Gorgas Panama). (front row from left): Cristienn Joudaane, MBA, MS (USF Health); Mayela Castro, MSPH; Jesica Candanedo, MSPH; Nydia Flores, MSPH; Dr. Arlene Calvo (USF Health); Dr. Donna Petersen (USF COPH); Dr. David Freedman (Gorgas Alabama); Dr. John McNeil (Georgetown University); Gladys Bernett, MBA, MHA (USF Health)

USF Health’s formidable contingent joined forces with Panamanian and global health leaders at the forum. Front row, from left: Cristienn Joudaane, Mayela Castro, Jesica Candanedo, Nydia Flores, Dr. Arlene Calvo, Dr. Donna Petersen, Dr. David Freedman (Gorgas Alabama), Dr. John McNeil (Georgetown University) and Gladys Bernett. Back row, from left: Morgan Hess, Dr. John Petrila, Jay Evans, Dr. Jorge Motta (Gorgas Panama), Dr. Ilenia Forero, Dr. Lissette Chang, Dr. Roderick Chen, Dr. Lorna Jenkins, Dr. Juan Pascale (Gorgas Panama), Dr. Silvio Vega (CSS Panama), Prof. Jorge Arosemena (City of Knowledge) and Dr. Nestor Sosa (Gorgas Panama).


The forum opened with welcoming remarks from the administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, Jorge Quijano. It continued with recognized historian Dr. John McNeil from Georgetown University, who showed the importance that public health measures had in the eradication of yellow fever, allowing construction of the Canal.

Dr. Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and former minister of health in Mexico, gave a presentation focused on the need for a “global health revolution” and to “inform in order to reform and not deform” the health system.

Dr. Jorge Motta, associate researcher of the Gorgas Memorial Institute and president of the Panamanian Association for the Advancement of Science, focused on current health indicators and trends in Panama. Motta emphasized that “without health, the Panama Canal would have not been built, and without health, we cannot build the country we much desire to have.”

The keynoter, Dr. Mirta Roses, director emeritus of the Pan-American Health Organization, built upon the previous speakers to highlight the importance of developing sound public policies. An influential public health advocate, she spoke of the need to improve local and regional health outcomes, provide for more equitable human development, use evidence-based scientific research to generate policy change and allow for new health delivery models to yield sustainable economic, social, cultural and political growth.

Roses concluded her presentation asking the audience to celebrate – not with a moment of silence, but with applause – the life of Dr. Ciro de Quadros, public health leader in vaccine development, who died the day before the forum took place.

The agenda followed with a short video presentation by local researchers and USF affiliate faculty, including Dr. Arlene Calvo highlighting how USF Health´s presence at the City of Knowledge in Panama has maintained Dr. Gorgas’ legacy of research and community public health interventions.

The highlight of the event was an interactive panel moderated by Donna Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH, professor and dean of the USF College of Public Health. As part of the panel discussion, Dr. David Freedman, director of the Gorgas Memorial Institute at the University of Alabama, discussed how internal migration moves endemic diseases such as tuberculosis from rural areas to urban areas.

Dr. Nestor Sosa, director of the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama, spoke of the increase in publications in peer-reviewed indexed journals in recent years, emphasizing the importance of sharing research results with local authorities so they can translate them into new health policies.

Dr. Donna Petersen moderates panel discussion with Drs. David Freedman, Mirta Roses Periago, Jorge Motta, and Nestor Sosa

Dr. Donna Petersen moderated a panel discussion with Drs. David Freedman, Mirta Roses Periago, Jorge Motta and Nestor Sosa.

Dean Petersen commented on how USF Health came to Panama 10 years ago and saw the potential to become an international hub for education and health research, to which Motta, a board member of the City of Knowledge, replied that the growth of the City of Knowledge today is comparable to the growing trend of the GDP in Panama and sees huge potential for more research because of the country’s rich bio-diversity.

“If you want to study bats in Germany,” he said, “you have access to three different bat species. In Panama, we have over 100 different bat species.”

To this, Sosa added, “Panama has now enough trained professionals to implement collaborative research with international organizations.”

Exhorting Panama to optimize use of its research capacity, Roses said, “Panama, with its connectivity, has a golden opportunity and should join forces with the Panama Canal, Copa Airlines, the airport, the maritime industry and be the regional public health leader that can develop WHO international health regulations. That would be the key to ensure sustainable resources for human resource development and research and allow Panama and the hemisphere to be at the forefront of innovation and human development, similar to what Dr. William Gorgas did 100 years ago.”

As the event neared its conclusion, Petersen presented Pioneer Research in Public Health awards to Dr. Alberto Calvo and Motta for their many years of work for the betterment and well-being of Panamanians their continued contributions to an important global health legacy via their work and writings.

102-year-old Dr. Alberto Calvo, first MPH in Panama (center), Dr. Arlene Calvo, USF Health faculty (far left), pictured with the most current Panamanian Cohort of USF MSPH alumni

102-year-old Dr. Alberto Calvo, first MPH in Panama (center), pictured with his granddaughter Dr. Arlene Calvo, USF Health faculty (far left) and the recent Panamanian Cohort of USF MSPH alumni.


Calvo, who is Dr. Arlene Calvo’s grandfather, earned his master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. He then pursued his MD at the University of Chicago. He was founder of the School of Medicine at the University of Panamá and served as faculty there for more than 30 years. Calvo was twice appointed minister of health and also served as principal delegate at the World Health Assembly. At age 98, he presented his last book, A Historic Analysis of the Public Health in the Republic of Panama 1903- 2006.

Now 102, Calvo was present to receive his award surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In her closing remarks, Dean Petersen recognized the Panamanian MSPH alumni present, announced upcoming certificate programs and activities such as the third version of USF Health´s “Vaccionology in the Tropics” conference for next year, and thanked Gladys Bernett of USF Health. Ms Bernett first posed the idea of leading the forum and organizing it in conjunction with the Panama Canal Authority and the Gorgas Memorial Institute.

She also reiterated the importance of using the Panama Canal example in the next 100 years.

“We have that responsibility, as health is inextricably linked to global security, economic development and human rights,” she said, then closed her remarks with a proverb: “’He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.’” 

The 100 Years event attracted more than 250 attendees, including authorities from the Panama Canal, Ministries of Health, local and International universities

The 100 Years event attracted more than 250 attendees, including authorities from the Panama Canal, Ministries of Health, and local and International universities.

Related media:
USF Panama Blog of 100 Years event
100 Years event photo gallery on Facebook
Interview with Dr. Alberto Calvo on Vimeo
100 Years of the Panama Canal: a Century of Contributions to Global Health