Cuban Collaborations

As part of the Research pillar of FMIHD, we developed collaborative research projects with our Cuban Colleagues. The first research project started last February around breastfeeding: “Increasing the Rates of Exclusive Breastfeeding: An Approach to Non-Communicable Disease Prevention” is being conducted by Professor Cindy Lee Dennis and our liaison with Cuba: Dr. Yeneir Vera in collaboration with the Cuban National Growth and Human Development Group. Also a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Toronto and the University of Medical Sciences of Havana is about to be signed.

Cuban Collaborations goals:

Cuba is a leading country in early childhood development and education programs for children from conception and birth through age 6. The pragmatism of the Cuban approach to health and education, with its emphasis on making the best use of limited resources to achieve a clearly identified goal, is admirable. We believe that Cuba can be a model of early human development for low and middle income countries.

• Identify common areas of research interest and opportunity
• Facilitate ongoing and future research and institutional collaboration
• Develop transdisciplinary training opportunities
• Engage government and promote international collaboration
• Identify potential international funding opportunities

Collaborative Breastfeeding Study – “Increasing the Rates of Exclusive Breastfeeding: An Approach to Non-Communicable Disease Prevention”

The goal of this study is to increase the rates of breastfeeding among Cuban mothers. The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months are very well established and include improved disease prevention, neurological development and maternal health, and although Cuba boasts some very impressive maternal-infant health statistics and initiatives, the exclusive breastfeeding rate is very low. Almost all Cuban women are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital after giving birth, but the rate drops off dramatically to below 50% after 3 months, despite the fact that working mothers in Cuba get a one-year maternity leave.

Professor Cindy-Lee Dennis and Dr. Yeneir Vera are working with the Cuban National Group of Growth and Human Development and the national pediatric group to enlist at least 300 women to take part in a 6-month survey, which will collect a multitude of information including: socio-economics, mental health, relationship data etc. Dr. Dennis will be applying her Breastfeeding Self-efficacy Scale and will also look at the role of the fathers, which is a growing area of study in breastfeeding and maternal mental health contexts.

Professor Alison Fleming is part of this study and she will include along with the national Genetic Institute genetic samples of all the women with goal to analyze the relationship between genetics, breastfeeding and mental health.

No studies of this nature have ever been conducted in Cuba, and the results and any potential interventions will be relevant in other countries around the world with a low rate of exclusive breastfeeding.

To date, 300 women and 300 babies have been recruited.

Visits to Cuba

Members of the FMIHD have now visited Cuba several times. These visits were arranged by our liaison and Research Associate: Dr. Yeneir Vera. During these visits we have had opportunity to learn more about Cuba’s unique early childhood programs.

In April 2015 a group of FMIHD members received  invitation from The Ministry of Public Health of Cuba to participate in the International Health Convention ¨Cuba-Health 2015¨ at the Havana´s Convention Center. A group of researchers, led by our Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Lye attended the international event.   During this visit, they also visited polyclinics, community centres, early stimulation centres and the Educate your child program.

In early December 2015 we returned to Cuba with members of our Advisory Committee: Jane Bertrand, Program Director for the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation and a member of the Directing Committee of the Centre for Excellence for Early Childhood Development and Joan Lombardi, an international expert on child development and social policy,and senior advisor to the Buffet Early Childhood Fund.

We were exited to introduce these valuable members of the FMIHD to the partnerships and research projects we have developed in Cuba.  The trip was filled with visits to clinics and communities and meetings with our research partners.

In March 2016, Executive Director Stephen Lye, Director of ACT NOW, Barbara Fallon and Research Associate, Dr. Yeneir Vera attended the UNICEF Regional Meeting in Havana: “1000 Days of Protections: Preventing and Understand Neglect, Abuse and Violence in Early Childhood.”

Dr. Fallon presented on the analysis of risk and protective factors from her own program of research on adversity in early childhood while Dr. Lye gave a presentation on the neuroscience of early trauma and the implications for future health and well-being of abused and neglected children.

During this conference they also had the opportunity to visit a program for mothers in prison. This is a version of the Educate Your Child Program. Here, however, the program focuses specifically on rehabilitating the relationship between parents and their children after having been separated during the prison term and aims to equip imprisoned parents with the skills they need to be successful parents once released from prison. The program also works with mothers who enter the prison system pregnant. These women are allowed to keep their infants with them for up to a year, but the women continue in the program even after their children have been temporarily moved into care in order that they continue to learn and grow as parents.

Through this meeting UNICEF seeks to deepen the understanding and help integrate the agendas of child survival, early childhood development, social inclusion and protection of violence against children, and strengthen coordination between the different UNICEF program areas, while further mainstreaming the equity agenda. The Regional Meeting was the first step toward the development of an integrated approach for addressing violence against young children in UNICEF’s activities and programs throughout the region.