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14 universities meet for HUC Consortium

Health reform took centre stage as 14 universities across the Americas and the Caribbean met for the second Hemispheric University Consortium meeting in October.

Hilary Beckles (L) and Julio Frenk (R) emphasised the need to focus on health research as new challenges arise. Photo: HUC

The area’s history has accumulated specific regional problems that need to be addressed, while new realities have arisen from the success of health systems, delegates heard.

“It is a very relevant strategy… to enable universities across this hemisphere to collaborate”

Latin America and the Caribbean have been “a great source of innovation when it comes to health reform”, Julio Frenk, president of the University of Miami, stated.

“But in public health, we are always victims of our own success.”

Life expectancy around the world more than doubled in the first eight decades of the twentieth century, he added, which in turn created a massive transformation in disease profiles.

While fewer children die of common diarrhoea or respiratory illnesses and fewer women die in childbirth, diseases such as leukaemia – the most common cancer in children – and breast cancer are a growing problem, Frenk explained.

“We achieved in a short period of time higher gain than in all the previously accumulated history of mankind.”

“The issue is that that element of being victims of our own success has not been matched by the societal arrangements that we call health systems, and that is the imperative for reform,” Frenk said.

“The challenge we have is with the new realities that we are facing what are the next avenues for health reform in the next generation.”

The institutions agreed to further joint research initiatives as part of the consortium, which was established in 2018 to find solutions to global problems including public health and wellness, climate change and technology and innovation for education.

Congregating at the University of the West Indies’ campus in Kingston, Jamaica, the institutions from 12 countries noted that the “future of higher education institutions is interdependent”, and that unique partnerships formed as part of the consortium will work towards mutual benefit.

“We believe that it is a very relevant strategy and an effective tool to enable universities across this hemisphere to collaborate in partnership, in the search of solutions that will be a regional and hemispheric nature,” Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the UWI, said.

“The mantra of the UWI was that we were established not to serve ourselves, but we were established to serve the region and the hemisphere.”

Beckles noted that UWI was established over seven decades ago by the British Empire as a “strategy to improve the public health of the people of these islands”.

Populations in the region are the “sickest people in the world in respect to chronic diseases”, Beckles explained.

While Barbados is a great place to holiday, it is also the “amputation-capital of the world” in respect to complications arising from diabetes, he added.

“Barbados was the first sugar plantation island in this hemisphere,” he said.

“I believe that the Caribbean world has to be seen as a laboratory for special study in this regard,” Beckles added.

“Slavery and colonisation are over, but we are now living in the jet stream of it. We are now seeing the consequences of it, and that is something we now have to study.”

*Another study highlighted at the conference was a joint effort between UM and two Mexican institutions called “Worlds of Journalism,” which examines threats to the sustainability of an independent press throughout Latin America, and the struggles that journalists must face to report the news*

The 14 universities that are part of the Hemispheric University Consortium are:

  1. Universidad Austral (Argentina)
  2. Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil)
  3. York University (Canada)
  4. University of the West Indies (Caribbean)
  5. Universidad Andrés Bello (Chile)
  6. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile)
  7. Universidad de los Andes (Colombia)
  8. Universidad de Costa Rica (Costa Rica)
  9. Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (Dominican Republic)
  10. Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador)
  11. Universidad de las Américas Puebla (Mexico)
  12. Tec de Monterrey (Mexico)
  13. Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (Peru)
  14. University of Miami (USA)

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