Why are you promoting the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade for the 2021 prize instead of 2020?
Unfortunately, the deadline for 2020 nominations passed in February and we started this campaign in April, so we are pushing for 2021. Since the Brigade will still be in many countries around the world in 2021, this nomination will still be relevant.
Isn’t the Nobel Prize supposed to go to people or organizations working on disarmament or directly on war and peace issues?
This prize is supposed to be awarded for exceptional service to humanity in the field of peace. According to Alfred Nobel’s will, one of those criteria is doing the best work “for fraternity between the nations,” which is certainly what the Cuban healthcare workers have been doing. Also, while most of the awards have been given for efforts related directly to war and peace, the committee has interpreted the criteria more broadly in numerous cases. In 2007, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were selected for their work on climate change; Malala Yousafzai won in 2014 for her struggle against the suppression of children and for the right of all children to education. In 2006 Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank were selected for their efforts to help lift women out of poverty through small-scale loans. The Red Cross is a three-time winner of the peace prize, most recently in 1963 for its humanitarian work.
It is mostly awarded to individuals, but it has been awarded to organizations. In 2017, the prize was given to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
Henry Reeve was a 19-year-old American who left his home in Brooklyn, New York to join the Cuban struggle for liberation from the Spanish in the late 1800s. The Brigade named after him was formed by the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2005.
Since its formation, the medical personnel of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade, now composed of about 7,400 voluntary healthcare workers, have been on the front lines providing disaster relief around the world.
Before COVID-19, personnel from the Brigade had treated more than 3.5 million people in 21 countries ravaged by the world's worst natural disasters and epidemics. An estimated 80,000 lives have been saved as a direct result of the Brigade's front-line emergency medical treatments. It was the first team of foreigners to arrive in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, and the last to leave six months later. Brigade members worked in Haiti after the disastrous 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak.
One of their most heroic acts was in 2014-2015, when the Brigade sent over 400 doctors, nurses and other health workers to West Africa to confront the dangerous Ebola pandemic, working in regions where healthcare facilities and even basic infrastructure such as roads and communications systems were minimal. This team constituted the single largest medical operation on the ground in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. In recognition of the work of these specialists, the World Health Organization (WHO) awarded them the prestigious Dr. Lee Jong-Wook Memorial Prize for Public Health in 2017.
No. The Henry Reeve Brigade is only one part of the Cuban medical system, and focuses on disaster and emergency situations. It is part of a much larger program coordinated by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, which has sent more healthcare workers overseas than the entire World Health Organization.
For Cuba, medical assistance has been a hallmark of the revolution: helping Chilean earthquake victims in 1963; Nicaraguans and Hondurans devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998; Indonesia tsunami victims in 2004. They even offered to send help to the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but the Bush administration refused on ideological grounds.
Gradually these healthcare workers not only responded to emergencies overseas but began serving as family doctors in communities around the world that lack adequate healthcare. Poorer countries pay only the medical teams’ expenses or seek international support to compensate Cuba; wealthier countries pay more.
Between 1960 and 2018, over 325,000 Cuban medical personnel have worked in 158 countries. They have attended 2.6 million births, conducted 9.1 million surgeries, administered 12.8 million vaccinations, and trained over 50,0000 international medical students from rural and poor regions.
Officials in the Trump administration have been enticing Cuban doctors working overseas to defect, paying journalists to write negative stories, sanctioning Cubans in charge of the program, and pushing countries to expel Cuban doctors or not accept their offer of help.
The administration has been successful in convincing the right-wing governments that came to power in Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador since 2018 to send about 9,000 Cubans packing. In a tragic twist, these same countries are now overwhelmed with coronavirus and lamenting the loss of experienced professionals.
The crux of the attack has been to paint the program as a form of modern slavery because the doctors only receive about a quarter of the money the countries pay for their services. But Cuban health professionals volunteer for these assignments — they want the experience, they earn much more than they would back home, and they know the rest of the money goes to support Cuba’s national health care and education systems.