Despite a canceled trade mission, some U.S. devicemakers are forging ahead with plans to gauge Cuba's appetite for their products.
The Medical Device Manufacturers Association withdrew from a U.S.-Cuba summit in September after the U.S. Treasury Department notified organizers that the multi-industry visit would violate the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba.
The excursion, sponsored by Washington-based consulting firm Alamar Associates, was to include an overnight trip to Havana to meet with Cuban government officials.
The MDMA has received the government's nod to conduct its own trade trip in February. About five of its officials will meet with Cuban physicians and hospital administrators and visit a $170 million biotechnology center to assess the nation's penchant for U.S. goods.
Medical products are excluded from the embargo, but licensing restrictions and monitoring requirements have effectively barred many American suppliers from the next-door market, says MDMA Executive Director Stephen Northrup. His organization represents about 120 firms, most of which have relatively modest sales of $10 million or less.
Conditions could soon change, however, since the Clinton administration has pledged to streamline the oversight of exports to Cuba.
"There are a lot of unknowns," says Northrup. "It's really a market that has been left unexplored for the last 40 years."
Not just country. Nashville's vigorous healthcare industry will try to drum up international business with an unusual joint trade mission to Europe.
About 25 local executives are expected to venture to Germany and Great Britain, two of Europe's largest healthcare markets. The tentative itinerary includes meetings with government officials, industry associations and payers.
The March trip is being organized by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, with invitations going out under the name of designated mission leader Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Frist Jr., M.D.
Nashville Health Care Council Executive Director Matthew Gallivan says the city's entrepreneurial bent fits a worldwide movement toward market-based reforms. For example, Germany's push to encourage the use of ambulatory surgery centers could create opportunities for physician practice management companies and architecture firms, he says.
The city is home to more than 200 healthcare firms, plus a strong base of legal, architectural, accounting and banking support companies, according to the council.
Feast or famine. It looks as if American doctors aren't the only ones worried about an influx of foreign physicians into the U.S.
In India, a parliamentary committee on human resources development recently expressed "deep concern" over the exodus of India's medical professionals, according to the Indian newspaper The Hindu. The committee reportedly urged the Indian government to take stringent measures to curb the brain drain.
In a report submitted to the Indian parliament, the panel said medical professionals who go abroad and do not return should be asked to compensate the government, which subsidizes medical education. According to the newspaper, the government annually issues approvals for some 1,500 to 1,700 professionals to go abroad, but few return.
Meanwhile, former American Medical Association President Daniel "Stormy" Johnson, M.D., says he'd like to tackle the issue of uneven physician supply in his new job as president of the World Medical Association, a congress of 70 national medical associations.
"We have to assess the scope of the problem and understand more about it" before taking any action, Johnson says.
At his swearing-in last month in Ottawa, Canada, Johnson called on WMA delegates to expand their role beyond public health and ethics by advocating free healthcare markets. "Are we going to plod along fine-tuning declarations and statements on one or two aspects of professional life while the world changes around us?" he asked delegates.
Hmmm. Sounds a little like an AMA meeting.
Taking control in Russia. Their economic system may be spinning out of control, but a new self-care book will at least help Russians take charge of their own health. A Moscow publisher has bought the rights to translate and market Health at Home: Your Guide to Symptoms, Solutions and Self-Care, published by Farmington Hills, Mich.-based American Institute for Preventive Medicine.
Last month the first 10,000 copies hit Russian bookstores. Don Powell, the booklet's author, says that it's too early to measure high Eastern European demand, but he's hopeful. "In six months we'll have a Polish version, too," he says.
Floating mission. Mercy Ships, an interdenominational Christian mission that claims to operate the world's largest nongovernmental hospital ship, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Its volunteers have treated more than 115,000 patients and have performed 4,700 on-board surgeries. The international mission currently operates three vessels including flagship Anastasis, a 522-foot vessel with three fully equipped operating rooms.
Despite a shortage of anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, operating room nurses and dentists, medical professionals are generally eager to volunteer, and many return, says Twink DeWitt, a staff member at the Mercy Ships headquarters in Garden Valley, Texas.
Volunteers often gain as much as patients.
Earlier this year, a five-member team from the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City embarked on a three-week mission aboard the Anastasis to the West African nation of Benin. The Kansas team performed more than 50 operations, including fixing cleft lips and palates and removing benign tumors.
The medical center's chief of plastic surgery, Ned Garrigues, M.D., remembers one girl who gazed at her smile in a mirror following surgery to repair her cleft lip. "I can't tell you how important a feeling that is," he says.