Biomedical Innovation in Late Socialist Cuba


My previous international research experience includes having conducted ethnographic research on women’s health and health worker training in Ecuador over seven summers as well as ethnographic interviews on depression in Cuba in the summer of 2015. This summer my research interrogated the terrain of pharmaceutical innovation and proliferation in Cuba, particularly the therapeutic lung cancer vaccines invented and used on the island. The significance of these lung cancer vaccines was explored in the context of a country with deep ties to tobacco, in particular the famous Cuban cigar. The methods included conducting interviews and observations of healthcare providers, the general public, and tobacco workers which help shape my dissertation proposal. Further, the trip helped generate crucial contacts necessary for conducting my dissertation fieldwork. This early investigation lays the groundwork for future fieldwork that seeks to consider how Cuban lung cancer vaccines participate in the emergence of a new and distinctive phase of socialism amid claims of its demise. Inverting two decades of theoretical development in medical anthropology on the phenomenon described as ‘pharmaceuticalization,’ where health systems are described as increasingly dominated by drugs as product and project of capitalism, my research seeks to disrupt the idea that profitability is foundational to the innovation and proliferation of drug treatments.

Naomi Schoenfeld
Publication date: 
August 27, 2016
Publication type: 
Student Research