The French association Cuba Linda advocated yesterday for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Cuban medical brigades Henry Reeve, deployed in more than 20 countries for the fight against the Covid-19.
The international community is witnessing the solidarity of health professionals who leave their country to provide services and share experiences in other parts of the world, which in the case of the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus even reach the heart of Europe, it specified in a statement to which Prensa Latina had access.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba sent its first mission to Lombardy, Italy’s worst-hit region. Soon after Italy, it has sent its missions to over 20 countries, which include Venezuela, Nicaragua, Belize, Suriname, Dominica, St. Lucia, Mexico, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Honduras, Grenada, St.Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Haiti, Andorra, Italy, Angola, Togo, St. Thomas and Prince, Qatar, Cape Verde, and South Africa.
Cuban Medical Internationalism
Fidel Castro had defined the medics of Cuba as Cuba’s “army of white coats”. For years now this army has been going across countries helping them through outbreaks of deadly viruses, be it SARS, Ebola, Cholera, or now Coronavirus.
Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade has helped 3.5 million people in 21 countries between 2005 and 2017. These countries were affected by disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and epidemics, including the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Since the early days of the Cuban revolution, leader Fidel Castro believed that universal free health care and education will be the key strategy in building the country. Cuba has more than three times doctors per capita than the US. Cuba sent its first long-term mission of Cuban doctors to Algeria in 1963. Since then, Cuba has sent more than 400,000 healthcare professionals to work in 164 countries, according to statistics published by the state media. For example, in 2010 a tragic earthquake hit Haiti. 230,000 people died and many were left homeless. The Henry Reeve Contingent reached Haiti within 24 hours and started working alongside hundreds of Cuban-trained Haitian physicians.
Jose Angel Portal Miranda, Cuba’s health minister tweeted around a month ago- “Cuba has extended a hand many times, but never so many times in such a short time. In the past week, a Henry Reeve brigade has departed with each sunrise. There are already 11 in total. There is no precedent,”
#Cuba ha extendido la mano muchas veces, pero nunca tantas veces en un tiempo tan breve. En la última semana ha partido una brigada Henry Reeve con cada sol. Ya van 11 en total. No hay precedentes. #CubaSalvaVidas 🇨🇺 #CubaPorLaSalud https://t.co/v0MAkxaEKE
— José Angel Portal Miranda (@japortalmiranda) March 28, 2020
There are critics of Cuban medical Internationalism who claim that Cuba is using its doctors to spread its socialist propaganda and using it as a revenue source.
In a piece by Helen Yaffe, she argues that this is a very shallow understanding of why Cuba engages in aid programs, she writes “Cuban missions differ from most global health security responses, which are anchored in military and defence programmes and aim to protect domestic populations from external threats of disease. They[researchers] recognize that Cuban medical internationalism is rooted in a “principle of solidarity” with the global population rather than the notions of responsibility, charity, and altruism common in aid frameworks.”
It is not only Cuban doctors that are being needed across the world but also Cuban drugs. Cuba invested heavily in the biotech industry to develop medicine and vaccines and support a prevention-oriented healthcare system. The Cuban anti-viral drug Interferon alfa-2b is now being used as a treatment drug against the virus. In China, it was one of the treatment drugs against the virus and in many cases was found to be successful. It has been effective to treat other viral diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, shingles, and dengue. Cuba has received requests from 45 countries for the drug.
In 2020, Cuba has been sending medical aid across the world. But the Trump administration has not been happy with this. Under pressure from the Trump administration, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil have ended their contract with Cuba. This has left millions without health-care in these countries. This tactic of sabotaging the Cuban medical aid has come from the Bush-era, where Cuban doctors were given US citizenship in return for abandoning the program and this was not ended till the Obama administration in 2017.
As a response, Argentina invited citizens to sign a proclamation to welcome Cuban medical aid workers and to oppose the United States campaign against Cuba’s medical aid missions. “Today, it is about preserving the lives of millions of people, without exceptions, and this is what is most important. The virus kills without respecting borders or ideologies.” the letter said. They denounce “the United States campaign against Cuban medical collaboration in the world, which today is part of the aggressiveness and intensification of the blockade against that brother country.”
In these times when the world needs to stand in solidarity, this move by the organization is important in recognizing the humanitarian work done by the ‘army of white coats’