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Massachusetts Pharmacy School Sponsors Cuban Event

Donna Young

The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) of Boston sponsored a first-of-its-kind conference in Cuba in June.

Under a special license from the U.S. Department of State, MCPHS received authorization to sponsor scholarly and cultural exchanges between the United States and Cuba.

More than 400 pharmacists, pharmacy-school leaders, and professors from Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the United States attended the Institute of Pharmacy and Food Science of the Havana University’s First Inter-American Conference of Pharmacy and Nutrition in Havana.

The purpose of the conference was to foster dialog among Latin American and U.S. pharmacy schools and exchange ideas about drug therapy and alternative medicines.

Charles F. Monahan Jr., MCPHS’s president, said the conference marks the first time an American university or college has ever sponsored an event in Cuba.

"It was purely educational, not political," he said.

However, Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA) accompanied the delegation to Cuba to deliver a letter to President Fidel Castro from the late Rep. J. Joseph Moakley (D-MA). McGovern said Moakley wrote the letter shortly before his death.

Moakley had met with Castro last year and was responding to a letter the Cuban leader had sent to him.

McGovern was invited to open the conference with a keynote speech because MCPHS’s new campus in Worcester in located within McGovern’s district.

Monahan first traveled to Cuba in April 2000 as part of a delegation of American educators that accompanied Moakley and McGovern. Monahan said he made a "side trip" of his own to Havana University’s pharmacy school. After meeting with the school’s dean, Monahan was invited back two months later by the Cuban school to make a presentation about the U.S. pharmacy-education system.

"As a result of that, Massachusetts has procured a two-year license for academic exchanges with Cuba," he said.

Monahan said the conference focused on alternative and herbal medicines used in Cuba.

Cuba relies heavily on botanical cures because the U.S. embargo does not allow the country’s pharmaceutical companies to ship prescription drugs to Cuba, Monahan said.

"Their pharmacies are comprised of bulk medication that they put up in little brown bags," he said. "They use mixtures and tinctures, and that is how they are getting along."

Monahan said MCPHS is interested in Cuba’s use of botanicals because the college just opened its new Center for Integrative Therapies in Pharmaceutical Care.

MCPHS has two campuses: one in Boston and its new campus in Worcester, which opened last year and houses its three-year accelerated program. The program is one of three in the country, Monahan said.

Monahan said the conference had several productive outcomes. MCPHS has been invited to sponsor another conference in Cuba in October 2002, in addition to a conference at the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Arequipa, Peru, to mark the 25th anniversary of the South American pharmacy school.

MCPHS has developed an exchange program with the Peruvian university and recently sent four students and two faculty members to visit the school for six weeks. Last winter, four students and two faculty members from Santa Maria spent three months at MCPHS.

"We are building a good relationship with the schools in Latin America, and that will be good for the pharmaceutical industry as a whole," Monahan said. "We think it will lead to the pharmaceutical industry sponsoring scholarships for students—both for Latin American students to study here and for American students to study in Latin American countries."