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Last Thursday, February 14, at the Convention Center in the City of Knowledge campus in Panama, more than 100 people joined together through their shared interest in human health and wellbeing to learn about advances in the much needed and longed-for topic of Health Equity in Central America.

The Annual Conference of the Central American Healthcare Initiative (CAHI) is a point of reference in the region, creating a space each year for important decision makers, leaders, and health expert to share their perspectives, experiences and to renew their commitment to improve access to quality healthcare for all, especially for those in vulnerable situations. CAHI’s fifth annual conference focused on health equity and the transformative power of social change agents, emphasizing the ability of individuals to generate improvements in their own communities and spheres of influence. The focus of the event created an enthusiastic response among the attendees.

The event created a space for interaction among social entrepreneurs, medical specialists, health center managers, international experts, academics, regulatory authorities and the general public. The range of attendees and their interests demonstrates CAHI’s innovative approach, one which promotes both creative leadership and efficient management of health projects, which invites cooperation among all sectors, which is essential to address complicated, shared challenges.

The CAHI Fellows program, which marked the graduation of its 5th cohort at this event, was developed in alliance with the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development at INCAE Business School, to offer a training program of the highest quality, focused on health, for healthcare managers and community leaders working improve health in Central America. Participants receive a full scholarship for the intensive 8-month- long program, during which they work to develop and refine their project to create a positive impact in healthcare and increase access to quality healthcare services in underserved populations.


Shivaugn Ahern, Executive Director of CAHI, welcomed the attendees to the event. Her comments emphasized the importance of cooperative work and coordinated efforts among all actors and stakeholders to advance healthcare in the region. “Our objective is to continue supporting the community of CAHI Fellows, to continue sharing the lessons learned from their experiences and their successes in advancing health equity” said Shivaugn.

Robert Jeffe, founder and president of the CAHI Board of Directors, confirmed this message for the audience while highlighting the importance of excellent leadership skills among health professionals. He emphasized that “with the right training, higher impact is guaranteed.”

Both took advantage of the opportunity to thank their partners at CLACDS and INCAE Business School for the design and implementation of the CAHI Fellows program, a training program created especially to focus on management of health projects with the opportunity to apply management theory directly to impactful projects.

High-ranking officials of the Panamanian Social Security Service and the Ministry of Health joined in offering attendees a warm welcome, while they congratulated the CAHI Fellows for the positive impact of their projects and their cross-sector cooperation.


HEALTH EQUITY IN VULNERABLE CENTRAL AMERICAN COMMUNITIES: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED? Dr. Lisa Adams, Associate Dean for Global Health and Director of the Center for Health Equity at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, offered a macro perspective on health equity, which helped the audience to understand the larger context and the general trends within which the CAHI Fellows’ projects are oriented.

Dr. Adams positioned health equity as a central element for development. She explained that there are still shortfalls in which some populations experience systematic exclusion from health services due to race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, gender, age, mental state, sexual orientation, gender identity, geographic location or other characteristics.

When reflecting on key elements necessary to advance health equity, she mentioned: leadership at all levels in the healthcare system; resilient institutions; decisions based in scientific evidence; equitable design of programs for implementation; a focus on offering attention at the community level; and finally, collaboration among all sectors.

With this background information provided, the agenda moved to a panel conversation, moderated by Andrea Prado, PhD, Associate Professor at INCAE Business School. In this panel, the conversation focused on lessons learned by CAHI Fellows working in vulnerable Central American communities. Dr. Marylin Hernandez (Clinica PH7 in Honduras), Dr. Waleska Lopez Canu (Wuku’ Kawoq, Maya Health Alliance in Guatemala) and Dr. Alcibiades Batista (Regional Director, Chiriqui, Ministry of Health, Panama).

The panel discussion emphasized the manner in which these leaders confronted social problems and transformed them into opportunities to create a new reality, exploring diverse options to empower their teams and patients, and developing new ways of working in their communities, to assure the sustainability of their projects and create a sustained, positive impact.


During the break that followed the first panel, conference attendees enjoyed some time passing by the stands of the CAHI Fellows to learn more about their projects. At their tables, organized around the conference space, the Fellows had the opportunity to share about their projects and their experiences. You can learn more about each Fellow and their project at this link.

1. Silvana Alaniz, Hospital Vivian Pellas, Managua, Nicaragua. 2. Oscar Castaneda Campos, Hospital Nueva Concepción, El Salvador, El Salvador. 3. Rafael De Gracia, Hospital Miguel Arcángel de San Miguelito, Panamá. 4. Mariela Delgado Mora, Asociación 123 a Moverse, San José, Costa Rica. 5. Rosalina Delgado Mora, Asociación 123 a Moverse, San José, Costa Rica. 6. Isabel Delgado Ramírez, Social Security, Costa Rica. 7. Silvia España, Hospital Departamental de Totonicapán, Quetzaltenago, Guatemala. 8. Sergio Flores, COMSALUD, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 9. Ingrid González, Ministry of Health, Panamá, Panamá. 10. Karen Iveth Izaguirre Sánchez, Comayaguela, Honduras. 11. Ricardo Jiménez Yela, Asociación PASMO, Guatemala, Guatemala. 12. Maxbeny López Canú, Asociación Wuqu’ Kawoq, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. 13. Giovanna Melillo Vegas, Asociación Nacional Contra el Cáncer, Santiago de Veraguas, Panamá. 14. Thomás Meoño Martín, Specialist in Family Health, Cártago, Costa Rica. 15. Josué Murillo, Hospital Manuel de Jesús Subirana, Yoro Yoro, Honduras. 16. José María Rodríguez, Fundación MOVICÁNCER, Managua, Nicaragua. 17. Edgardo Saavedra, Social Security, Panamá, Panamá. 18. Andrea Sojuel Figueroa, Asociación de Padres y Amigos de Personas con Discapacidad, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. 19. Milvia Solórzano García, Secretaría de Asuntos Sociales de la Municipalidad de Guatemala, Villa Nueva, Guatemala.

One of the most impactful aspects of these stands was the diversity of experiences and initiatives, which all shared a component of leadership with a high level of managerial capacity, the focus on vulnerable and marginalized populations, the collaboration between the public and private sectors, the high level of community involvement, and the cooperation among the network of CAHI Fellows.



Dr. Nathan Bertelsen, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine at New York University, who is also a member of the CAHI Board of Directors, spoke about the relevance and impact of the network of leaders in health that is comprised of the CAHI Fellows in Central America.

He described his observations of the values shared by the community leaders and healthcare professionals who have completed the program: the recognition of the family as the center and source of motivation for action, the care for the environment and available resources for the sustainability of initiatives, and respect for the diversity of relationships that have been established in the network. All these elements clearly connect with a profound shared commitment as a characteristic of the program’s graduates.

Dr. Bertelsen spoke about Planetary Health, and how complex variables and global changes are creating new challenges in health, and the intersection of accelerating climate change and migration of vulnerable populations. All these threats have the potential to derail initiatives that otherwise would positively impact health in the region, which makes initiatives like CAHI, that promote innovative leadership to confront this dynamic reality ever more essential.

This presentation was followed by the second panel discussion, moderated by Andy Pearson, MS, researcher at INCAE Business School. Panelists were Allan Bejarano (Consultant, Costa Rica), Dr. Giovanna Melillo (Skin Cancer Clinic, Panama), and Dr. Sergio Flores (Integrated Medical Network, Honduras).

The panel discussion focused on the support and collaboration among the public and private sectors as well as the necessity of an organized implementation process for any healthcare initiative, in order to guarantee sustained provision of services and the adequate flow of information and education that contribute to the prevention of disease.

Additionally, they discussed the interconnectedness of health with other community needs such as access to dignified work, and the development and coordination of actions organized by the community itself.


Dr. Leonardo Cubillos, MD MPH, Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for Technology & Behavioral Health, Dartmouth College, offered his reflections on the all that was shared during the conference. Dr. Cubillos presented five challenges, that can be converted into opportunities within the context of a solid vision for the future of the Central American Healthcare Initiative and the network of CAHI Fellows:

1. Expand the measurement of impact of the projects in development. Document the details to generate knowledge. 2. Promote public-private partnerships to formalize them and expand them throughout the region. 3. Integrate digital technology in processes of communication, research, and knowledge generation. 4. Share the learning process and the results with more people in more communities, to continue promoting social leadership with broad management skills. 5. Organize the CAH Fellows as a collaborative learning network.

In this way, the network of people and projects throughout Central America as well as their approaches and shared lessons learned will reinforce collaborative leadership and generate momentum to unite the public, private and civil society sectors in this movement. Individual values also play an important role in connecting and collaborating to increase health equity in the region.

Dr. Cubillos closed with these words: “We share the responsibility and the commitment to replicate this school of social leadership, to unite our efforts to ensure that the knowledge created by these initiatives is used to create a new reality, that we try to convert this program into a great school of leaders in Central America.”

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