Harpal Brar: Support Cuban medical disaster relief team for Nobel peace prize

Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade has saved thousands of lives across the world.

Henry Reeve Brigade doctors arrive in Italy to help with the covid emergency, March 2020.

The following letter was sent by the editor of Lalkar to Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel prize committee.


Dear Sir

In my position as the editor of Lalkar, a leading voice of the Indian community and other progressive sections of the population in Britain, I am writing to you to urge you to grant the Nobel peace prize to the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Cuban Doctors Specialised in Situations of Disaster and Serious Epidemics. That its mission and work deserve to be recognised is evidenced by its glowing history since its formation in 2005.

Henry Reeve is guided by the principle that there is a human right to health without discrimination as to race, nationality or economic circumstances – on the basis of equality and social justice.

Founded in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Henry Reeve contingent, prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic, had already worked in 22 countries, stretching from Latin America and the Caribbean through to Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the middle east and Europe.

Nine thousand Cuban health professionals had participated in its missions, which had provided medical care to 89,000 people and saved 59,000 lives. Its work has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has granted it a prestigious award. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Henry Reeve has reached 35 states, treated more than 300,000 people and saved 9,000 lives.

Sixty-one percent of the 3,700 Cuban health professionals participating in this latest health emergency are women – a testament to the high status of women in the contingent.

During the 2005 earthquake disaster that struck Pakistan, killing 70,000 people, injuring 100,000 and rendering three million homeless, the Henry Reeve contingent earned the plaudits of the grateful Pakistani people.

In view of its self-sacrificing services to humanity, to the victims of disaster, the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to this organisation would be a way of recognising the importance of its mission and the important role it has played, and continues to play.

I recommend the organisation as the most deserving in this area of work and I strongly urge you to grant your prestigious award to this contingent of selfless health professionals.

Harpal Brar
26 August 2020


Cuba explains the work of the Henry Reeve contingent


To provide humanitarian-medical-health aid to the populations of countries that are victims of natural disasters and epidemics, and help their recovery.

Principles on which their work is based

The defence and exercise of the human right to health implies access and universal health coverage, free of charge and without distinction of race, religion, political ideology or economic or social condition, of people and communities to adequate and timely comprehensive services determined according to their needs.

The promotion of the human right to peace defends the full enjoyment of the rights derived from the inherent dignity of all human beings, which includes the right to life. It fosters dialogue and international cooperation with the aim of improving the health indicators of the affected population, based on respect and the needs of the countries requesting aid; it responds to emergency situations, disasters or epidemics, which may mean an obstacle to peace in the future; it recognises the full development of a culture of peace.

Humanism that ratifies the dignity of the human being, on the basis of equality and social justice, and contributes to the development of peoples – in particular, by providing healthcare for all.

The solidarity that unites men and peoples in such a way that the wellbeing of one determines that of the other. It is based in mutual aid and collaboration between peoples and nations, regardless of the differences between their political, economic and social systems or their levels of development, while practicing tolerance, respect for their traditions and culture, and the promotion of peace.


The contingent was formed on 19 September 2005, in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the town of New Orleans in the United States, which left around 1,336 deaths and losses valued at $75bn.

It was named Henry Reeve in homage to the young American, a native of Brooklyn, New York, who joined a detachment of Cuban patriots, as a line soldier, which landed on 4 May 1869 on the eastern coast of Cuba in order to join the war of independence that had begun in October 1868 against the colonial rule of Spain.

In Cuban historiography, his example has been a paradigm of international solidarity.


Its members are mobilised with just 24-48 hours’ notice, depending on the type of adverse health event. Most members have experience in international health missions.

Participation is voluntary.

Main results

As of 10 August 2020, the contingent has assisted 46 nations and five non-self-governing territories.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, it has been present in 22 states: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize (twice), Bolivia, Chile (twice), Dominica (twice), Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Haiti (four times), Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico (three times), Nicaragua, Peru (twice), Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.

In Asia and Oceania, in five countries: China, Fiji Islands, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan.

In Sub-Saharan Africa in 13 nations: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry (twice), Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone (twice), São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Togo.

In north Africa and the middle east, it has assisted three countries: the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

In Europe in three states: Andorra, Azerbaijan and Italy.

The British non-self-governing territories assisted have been: Anguilla, Turks and Caicos Islands, Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Martinique, overseas department of France.

More than 9,000 Cuban health professionals have participated in these missions. Approximately four million people have received medical care. More than 89,000 lives have been saved.

On 26 May 2017, the Henry Reeve contingent received the Dr Lee Jong-wook award from the World Health Organisation at the ceremony of the 70th World Assembly of Health. The award was in recognition of the contingent’s work in emergency care medicine.

On presenting the award, Ihn Yohan, chair of the Korean Foundation for International Health Services, said: “The Henry Reeve contingent has spread a message of hope to the whole world.”

On 13 August 2020, the national congress of Honduras approved an award of the high decoration ‘Cruz de Comendador’ for the contingent in recognition of its outstanding contribution to benefit the health of the Honduran people and the results achieved in that country in the fight against Covid-19.

Participation in the fight against Covid-19

Faced with the classification of Covid-19 as a pandemic, the greatest health danger that the world has faced in the 21st century, the Henry Reeve contingent prepared to assist the peoples who requested it.

In the span of five months, its presence reached 35 states. It treated more than 300 thousand people and saved more than 9,000 lives. More than 3,700 Cuban health professionals participated, of whom 61.2 percent were women.

Of the 46 brigades formed to deal with the pandemic, 37 continue to provide health services in 26 nations (Angola, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belize, Cape Verde, Dominica, Grenada, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Honduras , Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Mexico, Peru, Qatar, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Togo and Venezuela) and five territories (Anguilla, Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Martinique and Montserrat).

Henry Reeve has been present in most regions of the world. In three states in central America (Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico). In the latter with four specialised medical brigades. In general, the six medical missions have treated more than 80,000 people.

In the Caribbean, it has assisted 12 countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti, Belize, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago) and provided services to about 33,000 people.

In South America, it has contributed to confronting the pandemic in Peru with four brigades, as well as in Venezuela; which has allowed it to serve approximately 19,000 people.

In Europe, four medical brigades joined the national efforts of Italy (two brigades in Lombardy and Piedmont, respectively), Andorra and Azerbaijan, which offered services to more than 16,000 people.

In addition, the contingent has been present in the non-autonomous British territories (Anguilla, Turks and Caicos Islands, Virgin Islands, Montserrat) and Martinique (French overseas department), where more than a thousand people have been assisted.

In Africa, ten medical brigades have treated more than 38,000 people in Angola, Togo, Cape Verde, South Africa, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone and Kenya.

In the middle east, four medical brigades have provided services in Qatar (two missions), the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, treateing more than 138,000 patients.

Fighting Ebola in Africa

As a result of cooperation with the World Health Organisation, in less than two weeks more than 5,000 Cuban doctors and nurses, members of the Henry Reeve contingent, volunteered to combat the Ebola epidemic. From those volunteers, more than 500 health professionals were selected and trained; and, finally, 256 participated.

As in 2010, Cuban doctors once again faced a simultaneous cholera epidemic in Haiti, during which they provided health services to more than 400,000 people and saved the lives of approximately 76,000.

The contingent was meanwhile present in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry in 2014 in Ebola treatment rooms, in which more than 2,000 patients were treated. It was the only medical mission to provide direct healthcare to Ebola patients.

During this period, two members of the Henry Reeve contingent died of malaria and one fell ill with Ebola.

Experience in dealing with situations of natural disasters

The first emergency that the contingent faced, a few days after its creation, was in Guatemala, to assist the population affected by the floods that occurred in October 2005. A total of 688 health professionals assisted more than 477,000 people and saved the lives of more than 1,300.

Since its constitution, the contingent has developed 20 medical missions specialised in dealing with natural disasters, eight of them due to the occurrence of floods in Guatemala (2005), Bolivia (2006), Belize (2007), Mexico (2007), El Salvador (2009), Chile (2015), Peru (2017) and Sierra Leone (2017); seven in earthquakes in Pakistan (2005), Indonesia (2006), Peru (2007), China (2008), Chile (2010), Nepal (2015) and Ecuador (2016); and five in hurricanes in Haiti (2016), Islas Fiji (2016), Dominica (2017), Mexico (2017) and Mozambique (2019).

The contingent’s actions made it possible, with the participation of more than 4,000 health professionals, to serve more than three million people.

The work of the contingent was highlighted after the impact of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, which led to the loss of 70,000 human lives, 100,000 injured and three million made homeless. In a period of almost eight months, the contingent sent more than 2,000 professionals to Pakistan, providing Cuban healthcare to more than 1,700,000 patients. More than 14,000 surgical operations were performed, more than 166,000 survivors received specialised rehabilitation treatment, and more than 2,000 were saved.


During the 15 years of its existence, the Henry Reeve contingent has been part of international efforts to increase cooperation in health matters among nations. During this period, 71 medical brigades have been grouped together, 46 destined to confront Covid-19, three in the face of the Ebola epidemic, two in the fight against the cholera epidemic, and 20 in the event of natural disasters; eight of them specialised in floods, seven in earthquakes and five in hurricanes.

The contingent has been active in its work. It has developed between one and four missions per year. In these last five months its effective action in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic stands out.

Background to the contingent

For more than half a century, Cuba has participated in the international medical cooperation project, which has reached the geography of more than 150 countries. The feelings of solidarity and humanism have been its inspiration.

The founding origins of this project date back to May 1960, when a Cuban medical brigade assisted the people of Chile, victims of an earthquake, and to May 1963, the date on which a group of 50 Cuban health professionals travelled, signing an agreement between both nations, to the Republic of Algeria in north Africa.

After 57 years of humanitarian aid, at the end of 2019, a total of 1,931,000,000 people have received preventive and curative health care in all latitudes of the planet, improving their individual wellbeing, and health status, and saving the lives of 8.2 million of them.

During the 45-year period from May 1960 to February 2005, emergency medical brigades, the embryo of the Henry Reeve contingent, carried out 30 missions of aid and health and humanitarian assistance in 19 countries, participated in by 2,055 health workers. The countries were: Algeria, Chile, El Salvador and Peru (twice); Nicaragua (five times), Honduras (four times), Armenia, Iran, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, Kosovo, Ecuador, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Guyana. According to geographic area, these correspond to: the Caribbean – 2, central America – 4, South America – 7, Eurasia – 2, Africa – 1, the middle east – 1, the far east and Pacific – 2.

The events or natural conditions that motivated humanitarian aid were: earthquakes – 11, hurricanes – 7, volcanic eruption – 1, landslides through rains and floods – 4, epidemics – 4, fire – 1 and tsunami – 2. On one occasion, the humanitarian aid followed a war.

Meteorological phenomena of great magnitude in 1998, which devastated large areas of the Caribbean and central America (Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala), led to the creation of a new international humanitarian aid project to assist the affected nations, which was called the Comprehensive Health Programme (PIS).

This project was complemented by the founding of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana at the end of 1999, where young people from countries punished by these natural phenomena could qualify as doctors and return to their native communities.

In ELAM in 15 years 29,749 doctors from 123 nations from all regions of the world have graduated. There were for the school year 2019-20) 1,358 students enrolled from 87 countries.