Cuba, home to “by far the most sophisticated biomedical community in Latin America,” is an important potential market for Georgia-based biotechnology and biomedical companies, said Dirk G. Schroeder, a member of a delegation of Atlanta-based medical and health care professionals that visited the communist country in April.

Presenting his findings at a June 1 forum at the Southern Center for International Studies (SCIS), Dr. Schroeder, an assistant professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, appeared on a panel to discuss “Cuba’s Role in the Post Cold War World” and pointed out that Cuba suffers under a feeble economy despite its high literacy rate and “first world” health care.

Dr. Schroeder said that a natural U.S. market is being pre-empted by Canadian and European suppliers and that their American counterparts could undersell them by 30% to 40%.

“Exchange rates, transport costs, and the expansiveness of European products” are heavy burdens on the country’s cash-poor economy and would make American medical equipment more attractive there, he said. The U.S. boycott on the island nation is “a ridiculous, counterproductive policy” for both humanitarian and business reasons, he added.

Having developed the only known vaccine against Meningitis-B, the Cuban medical community “has things to offer” American medicine, Dr. Schroeder said. He praised Cuba’s high priority on biotechnology and said that Cuban health officials he met with “would love to come [to the U.S.] for conferences.” Mexico and Argentina send medical students to Cuba to benefit from the quality research and educational facilities there, he added.

Joseph Massey, the leader of the five-person delegation to Cuba, said that the services of bioengineers would be particularly useful since the older equipment in Cuba is difficult to re pair. A fertility specialist with Southeastern Fertility Medicine, Dr. Massey said at the meeting “hospitals are in great need of anything you can think of… they’ve been short-changed in equipment.”

Also on the panel at the SCIS forum was Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist, who said that Cuba has shown little skill in marketing its biotechnology successes.

For more information, call the Georgia Biomedical Partnership at (404) 817-5919; fax, (404) 817-4345.

                                                                              by James Keaten