Faculty begin collaboration talks with Uzbekistan health officials

A small group of physicians recently became the first Michigan Medicine faculty delegation in recent memory to visit Uzbekistan, where they explored potential collaborations in the central Asian nation.

To mark the occasion of their visit, the faculty delegation from U-M were given Uzbek 'Chapan" robes, ceremonial garments in the country's traditional style.

Led by Clinical Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology Alisher Dadabayev, MD, the group included colleagues from Surgery, Pediatrics, and Urology. Dadabayev left his native Uzbekistan in 2001 but has remained involved in his home country. He is a healthcare representative on an advisory council to the government of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who, since ascending to the country’s top job in 2016, has sought economic reforms and public health improvements in the former Soviet Republic.

“When the USSR collapsed, I think the healthcare sector especially suffered. But there is an effort to change that,” said Dadabayev. “Now I frequently travel there to meet with Ministry of Health officials and talk about healthcare reform as part of the council I sit on.”

More than a year in the planning, the recent trip marked the first time Dadabayev was able to bring UMMS colleagues. Professor of Urologic Oncology Khaled Samir Hafez, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Shane Quinonez, and Associate Professor of Surgery and Dentistry Brent Ward were all first-time visitors of Uzbekistan. The visit was sponsored by the Uzbekistan government.

“Alisher did an amazing job of putting an itinerary together and creating connections for us to meet with many people in a short time to explore opportunities for a collaboration,” said Ward, MD, DDS. “It was a fascinating experience and a very good beginning.”

The four doctors were there Oct. 6-11. The group first visited Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, meeting with health officials and touring the country’s largest hospital, a private organization that also recently opened an affiliated medical school. Next, they traveled about 200 kilometers east to the city of Namangan, where they met with the region’s governor, toured a public hospital and oncology clinic, saw a few patients, and gave presentations about their own work to Uzbek physicians.

UMMS faculty (from lef) Brent Ward, Alisher Dadabayev, Khaled Hafez and Shane Quinonez meet with the Governor of Namangan, Uzbekistan (center).

“We were able to see two different worlds – the public and the private – which was important for my colleagues to begin to understand healthcare in Uzbekistan,” said Dadabayev. “We met with high-level leaders who are helping to decide where to make investments in the system, and young providers who are eager to collaborate. The people we met were genuinely interested in working with the University of Michigan.”

Deciding what such a collaboration might look like is the next step. A training partnership is one possibility, given the lack of sub-specialty training currently available across Uzbekistan’s seven medical schools.

“What we were looking for was the potential to make a difference in this healthcare system,” said Ward. “Currently, they just don’t have the resources to treat some diseases. We might be willing to train their surgeons to do some things that right now they are unable to do. It unquestionably deserves another trip back and continued conversations.”

For an initial visit that was predominantly dedicated to introductions and exploring potential partnerships, it was a success, Dadabayev said.

“My goal was not to come here one time but to establish a long-term relationship. Of course, I can’t do that alone. I’m so grateful to my U-M colleagues for their curiosity, trust, and willingness to share their expertise with strangers across the world,” he said. “Thanks to their help, I feel confident that we’ve started to create a solid foundation for a lasting partnership.”