Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade:

Candidature for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

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On November 26, the Norwegian Nobel Committee confirmed that it had accepted the candidature of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade sponsored by Professor Gilles Bibeau from Quebec.


In a year in which global attention is being focused on the challenges of fighting a pandemic, a Cuban organization – the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade – has distinguished itself by providing selfless assistance to some 40 countries and territories.


This manifestation of international solidarity has found its echo in a movement to promote the candidature of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, made up of doctors and other healthcare workers from Cuba, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. Nearly 200 committees have been formed for this purpose throughout the world. The Norwegian Nobel Committee will begin its deliberations on February 1, 2021. The announcement will be made in the fall of 2021.


On the initiative of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba (TCSQ-C),* a Québec committee has been formed. It is called the Comité québécois pour la nomination de la Brigade Henry Reeve au prix Nobel de la paix (Québec Committee for the Nomination of the Henry Reeve Brigade for the Nobel Peace Prize). Its first task, as announced last October 5, was to find a personality who would meet the criteria set by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for the submission of nominations. The committee found Mr. Gilles Bibeau to be the ideal sponsor to nominate the Henry Reeve Brigade.


Professor Emeritus at the University of Montreal, author of more than 300 publications, Gilles Bibeau is an expert in medical anthropology. A man who has spent much time in the field, his work on the social determinants of health in Africa, Latin America and Asia enables him to appreciate the exceptional humanitarian contribution of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade.


On November 26, the Norwegian Nobel Committee confirmed that it had accepted the candidature of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade sponsored by Professor Gilles Bibeau.


The attached letter was written by Professor Bibeau to justify the candidature of the Henry Reeve Brigade. The argumentation is accompanied by statistics that powerfully describes the quality of the interventions and what makes them unique. It ties in well with the contributions of the Brigade to the promotion of social justice, which is the basis of peace within and between nations. The Brigade builds bridges between peoples and nations across systems, ideologies and geopolitical tensions.


Since its creation in 2005, Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade has responded to requests from various governments to assist their populations during health emergencies resulting from natural disasters or epidemics. In the last 15 years, more than 9,000 Cuban healthcare professionals have worked in the Henry Reeve Brigade and carried out some 60 missions on four continents. It is estimated that they have provided care to over four million people and saved nearly 100,000 lives.


As the planet grapples with a terrible pandemic, there is no better time to highlight the selfless work of Cuban professionals who, between March and November 2020, battled COVID-19 in some 40 countries and territories. Their altruism and solidarity should earn them the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. Comité québécois pour la nomination de la Brigade Henry Reeve au prix Nobel de la paix of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba


Photo : Comité québécois pour la nomination de la Brigade Henry Reeve au prix Nobel de la paix of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba – from top left, clockwise : Sean O’Donoghue, Colette Lavergne, Guy Roy, Arnold August, Vincent Dostaler, Marie;Célie Agnant, Claude Morin.


* The TCSQ-C was founded in January 2002 and regroups several organizations from around Québec. Its principle activities turn around solidarity with the people of Cuba through the dissemination of factual information, material aid, as well as the organization of cultural exchanges, which testify to the friendship that binds the people of Québec and Cuba.


The TCSQ-C will ask personalities from academia, politics and the arts, as well as the healthcare field to express their support for the Québec campaign by endorsing the candidature of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. A list of these personalities (as well as organizations) will appear in another press release to be sent to the media and partner organizations in order to raise awareness among the Québec public of the exceptional contribution of the Henry Reeve Brigade. Professor Bibeau's letter will accompany the press release as it constitutes an essential part of our campaign.




Letter from Gilles Bibeau, PhD, MSRC


Professor emeritus
Department of Anthropology
Université de Montréal, Quebec

Montreal, November 15, 2020


Subject: Nomination of the candidature of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize


Addressed to the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee


Mesdames & Messieurs


By sponsoring the current candidacy of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, I am acting as a representative of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba, an organization founded in 2002 which brings together local committees throughout Quebec, in addition to liaising with related associations in Canada, the United States and France. I myself have been put in touch, through my interventions and research in the fields of medical anthropology and public health, with some of the emergency interventions carried out by the Henry Reeve Brigade. My stays in Latin America (Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica), in Central and West Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali), in the Maghreb (Tunisia, Morocco) and in Southeast Asia, especially in India, have made me aware of the fragility of public healthcare services in many countries, especially when they are faced with large-scale disasters and epidemics. I witnessed the first Ebola epidemic (1976) in Zaire and the beginnings of HIV-AIDS in Kinshasa in the early 1980s.


From my first encounters with these epidemics, I realized that we could only intervene effectively in the face of extreme situations of distress being experienced by populations, by developing an approach inspired by social justice, anchored in the consideration of inequalities in healthcare and attentive to the degradation of daily living conditions, whether caused by the economic system of the countries or by ecological crises. As a health anthropologist, the approach put forward by the Henry Reeve Brigade in its emergency humanitarian interventions seemed to me from the outset, to be respectful of the diversity of the social, cultural and ideological universes in which the Brigade was called to intervene.


I want to say a word about the very special circumstances that led to the creation of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade. During the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wreaked in late August 2005 in Louisiana and neighbouring states, Cuba spontaneously offered to send a medical brigade of 1,200 doctors to the scene, plus equipment valued at one million dollars. Cuba was then the first country to offer humanitarian assistance to the population of a country which had nevertheless accumulated acts of aggression against it for more than half a century. Furthermore, the United States had no direct official relations with Havana. President G.W. Bush turned down the offer of aid made to him by the Cuban government of President Fidel Castro. As early as September 19, 2005, Cuba announced the creation of the “Henry Reeve International Contingent of Physicians Specialized in Disasters and Epidemics.” The choice of this name was all the more symbolic in that Henry Reeve (1850-1876) had been a young soldier of American nationality who had gone to Cuba to join the army of Cuban patriots seeking liberation from Spanish colonialism. Henry Reeve died in action in Cuba at the age of 26.


By choosing to give the name of Henry Reeve to the Medical Brigade created in 2005, Cuba was paying tribute to international solidarity from wherever it might come. To this day, one of the features that distinguishes deployments of the Brigade around the world is precisely the fact that interventions are carried out without any regard to the nature of the relations Cuba maintains or does not maintain with the countries it aids. In addition, the Brigade’s deployments take place without ever taking into account ideological differences or geopolitical conflicts that divide countries. The idea that humanity is one serves as a sort of foundation upon which Cuban medical internationalism is based. Faithful to this principle, the Brigade has intervened on four continents over the years by implementing, in all circumstances, an authentic humanitarian universalism that has helped create links and work for peace through cooperation based on respect for all peoples and for each country.


Another strength of the Henry Reeve Brigades is the fact that they recruit professionals from all professional fields and are able to deploy very quickly, while taking into account the specifics of the disaster being faced. The speed of the interventions and the interdisciplinary competence of the specialized teams have saved many lives during their deployments. In October 2005, a Brigade of 668 professionals intervened in Guatemala to help a population affected by floods and landslides. During the same month of October 2005, more than 2,000 professionals intervened in Pakistan affected by an earthquake, treating more than one million people for almost 8 months. In its 15 years of existence, 20 Brigades have thus responded to fight natural disasters all over the planet: 8 for floods, 7 for earthquakes and 5 for hurricanes.


In their interventions, the Henry Reeve Brigades put into practice an intrinsically humanistic vision of medicine which is in conformity with the training received in Cuba by the personnel and applied within the country itself. In Cuba, access to care, provided with dedication and offered free of charge to the population, is seen as a requirement of social justice and human rights. In operations abroad, these same principles are applied out of a duty of solidarity. In 2014, Cuba eagerly responded to the WHO’s request to send doctors to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. More than 5,000 medical professionals then volunteered for this mission – 256 were deployed in three countries, where two of them lost their lives. It is recognized that the Cuban intervention helped control the epidemic. In 2010, Cuban teams fighting cholera in Haiti helped save the lives of some 70,000 people. The effectiveness of the interventions of the Henry Reeve Brigade can be explained, in this case as in several others, by the approach to public healthcare and health education: community visits, health education and the distribution of water purification tablets. Thanks to their knowledge of Haitian culture acquired during previous stays, Cuban doctors were able to carry out their actions within local healthcare structures in collaboration with local agents and health authorities.


Whatever the circumstances in which the Henry Reeve Brigades are called upon to intervene, they bear witness to specific qualities seldom found in organizations engaged in emergency humanitarian interventions. At all times and whatever the nature of the disaster or the circumstances, Brigade members try to establish close relations of cooperation with local communities by carrying out their fieldwork as best they can within existing public care structures, so as to reinforce them. This philosophy of intervention explains the success the Brigades have had repeatedly at their various intervention sites. The respectful way in which the Brigades intervene, as well as the generosity and availability of their teams, explains why many countries, including this time from Europe, have sent appeals to Cuba to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Between March and November 2020, more than 50 Brigades were deployed in some 40 nations and territories where they were asked to stay for several weeks, or even for several months – five months in the case of Mexico and Haiti. According to MINSAP figures, more than 3,500 employees treated 615,000 patients and saved more than 12,000 lives.


It should be noted that the Brigades sent to fight the Covid-19 pandemic are composed 61% of women. This high percentage of women is a reflection of the integration of women in all areas of professional life in Cuba. The high female presence in the Brigades facilitates interaction with women in the host societies, both for hygiene education and the administration of healthcare. During an intervention in Lombardy, Cuban staff worked together with their Italian colleagues by applying their protocols in field hospitals. In Haiti, the Minister of Health described Cuban aid workers as “apostles of knowledge and education” who provided care while ensuring “the transfer of their experience and knowledge in the management of emergencies of this type to their Haitian counterparts.” Whether in the case of Covid-19 or in other interventions, the Cuban Brigades have demonstrated an extraordinary ability to establish solid cooperation with existing care structures and local healthcare personnel. This approach explains why countries that have called on Cuba to help them in their fight against Covid-19 trust Cuban healthcare workers.


In its government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba is recognized as having the best performance in the Americas as of November 15, 2020 – at least for those territories with more than one million inhabitants. Cuba has only recorded 675 positive cases with 12 deaths per million inhabitants, such success being explained by a preventive approach and a strong network of primary healthcare. It should also be noted that Cuba has not reported any deaths among its medical staff. Therapeutic methods have also been used: many lives have been saved by the use of a cocktail of drugs administered according to the severity of the disease, including Interferon Alpha 2b, produced in Cuba since 2003. In addition, two Cuban vaccines (Soberana 1 and Soberana 2) are now undergoing clinical trials. This success has been made possible thanks to the establishment by Cuba, some 40 years ago, of a very impressive biotech platform for a country of its size, making it possible to foster the development of advanced biotechnology today.


Cuba’s ability to come to the aid of other countries affected by disasters or epidemics stems from the fact that it has the highest ratio of doctors of any country: nine per one thousand inhabitants. For three decades, Cuba has been training more doctors than its population requires, thus making them available to other countries as well. In fact, medical internationalism has been manifesting itself in Cuba for almost 60 years, even dating back to the early days of the Cuban Revolution. Assistance to other countries began in 1963 when doctors were first sent to Algeria, then elsewhere in Africa, notably to Angola and Congo-Kinshasa. In total, over the decades more than 400,000 healthcare workers have worked in 160 countries around the world, and this medical collaboration has never ceased to grow stronger with the passing of time. At the turn of the 2000s, Cuba even began to train foreign doctors at its Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which has so far graduated more than 30,000 doctors from 115 countries. These graduates, trained free of charge in Cuba, were candidates selected by their country of origin. They then agreed to return to work with disadvantaged populations, applying in their practice the same ethical precepts taught in Cuba. In 2014, Dr Margaret Chan, then Director-General of WHO (2007-2017), gave heartfelt testimony to this effect: “Cuba’s ability to train exceptional doctors and nurses and its generosity in helping other countries on the road to progress is recognized around the world.”


Despite being subjected to an embargo that has lasted for nearly 60 years, no other country has devoted as many resources as Cuba to international medical assistance. This remarkable feat has been expressed through the secondment and transfer of personnel, donations, drugs and equipment, as well as international travel. All this has been accomplished despite the embargo, which Cubans view as a blockade aimed at restricting the country’s ability to obtain foreign exchange and hamper its development. Under the Trump administration, some 100 unilateral measures have further tightened this embargo, yet despite this highly unfavourable context, Cuba continues to deploy an ever greater number of medical aid workers where disasters occur, regardless of the political and economic systems in place. Emergency humanitarian interventions are the responsibility of the government of Cuba. Unlike medical services contractually agreed upon between Cuba and recipient states, which may involve payments or cost sharing, the Henry Reeve Brigades are in fact deployed free of charge. Countries that are able to assume the costs of transport, accommodation and subsistence for deployed personnel, do so. Otherwise, the salaries are fully borne by the Cuban state, as are other costs for poorer countries.


If international assistance has been decried when coming from great powers like Russia and China, and spoken of as “medical diplomacy,” Cuba cannot be blamed in the same way. It is obvious that this country practises disinterested solidarity. In 15 years, more than 9,000 healthcare professionals have taken part in some 60 missions carried out by the Henry Reeve Brigades in 46 states and 5 territories. These healthcare professionals are estimated to have cared for more than four million people and saved nearly 100,000 lives. In normal times, this assessment, both qualitatively and quantitatively, should have earned the Henry Reeve Medical Brigades international recognition for Cuba that has not yet come.


In this year 2020, when the entire planet is facing a formidable pandemic whose effects will unfortunately continue into 2021 and probably beyond, it seems to us that the Henry Reeve Brigades represent an organization that displays an extraordinary commitment, par excellence, to international solidarity through humanitarian interventions carried out in the name of promoting peace between nations, respecting ideological differences, with a concern for the coexistence of peoples, and direct support for people who are victims of catastrophes, whether natural or manmade.


By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 to the Henry Reeve Brigades, the Norwegian Nobel Committee will be supporting an organization which has deployed, in an exemplary and uninterrupted manner, to some 50 countries and territories, a humanitarian universalism for almost two decades now. This letter is intended to provide the reasons for awarding the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to the Henry Reeve Medical Brigades.


Yours sincerely,


Gilles Bibeau, PhD, MSRC


Professor emeritus
Department of Anthropology
Université de Montréal
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