He died in Matanzas, Cuba in 1876 having fought in over 400 engagements against the Spanish. His name and example are the reason the Cuban medical volunteers became known as the Henry Reeve Brigade.
Since their formation in 2005, more than 13,500 Cuban healthcare professionals have been deployed following natural disasters. Including earthquakes and floods while also tackling outbreaks of cholera and Ebola.
Over 71 brigades have delivered medical care to over 4 million people saving the lives of over 93,000 in 45 nations in the process.
In 2005 following an earthquake in Pakistan, Cuba sent over 2,500 healthcare workers who treated over 1.7m patients (73% of earthquake victims), performed 14,000 surgeries as well as specialist rehabilitation services for 166,000. Saving over 2,000 lives.
They left a legacy of 32 field hospitals and gave scholarships to 1,000 students to enable Pakistan to build its medical capacity.
When it’s neighbour Haiti had an outbreak of cholera in 2010, the Henry Reeve Brigade provided medical assistance to more than 400,000 people and saved the lives of 76,000 patients.
In response to appeals from the World Health Organisation over 5,000 doctors and nurses volunteered to fight Ebola in West Africa with 500 chosen for training and 256 selected to fight Ebola.
They treated more than 2,000 patients in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry. This unique contribution was recognised by the WHO when the Dr Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health was awarded to the brigade in 2017.
The brigade, no surprise here, are in the front line of the fight against COVID-19 with over 3,700 health care professionals (61.2% of them women) volunteering to work in 39 countries ranging from neighbours Jamaica to Peru, Angola and Italy.
The latter thanked them for their support by projecting Grazie Cuba onto the side of the Mole Antonelliana building in Turin. A thank you for the work that helped Italy regain control of a virus that was spiralling out of their control.
A campaign to award the Brigade the Nobel Peace Prize has commenced in the UK. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign has a petition of support for this nomination and if like me you think they are worthy recipients then do sign it.
Nominations proper can be made by, members of Parliament, university professors and chancellors. The campaign has worked, in particular, with university professors and parliamentarians from Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff to facilitate the nomination. If you like what you’ve read: Ask your MP/MSP to support the campaign by making a nomination. Or, if you know a university professor, try your powers of persuasion there!
This small act of altruism on your part in signing the petition and asking your representatives to support their nomination will help the case for the brigade to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 2021 with nominations closing on 31/01/2021.
As East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill cogently puts it: “They are selfless yet contribute so much. It should be recognised.”
Acts of altruism can be found closer to home too. Marcus Rashford’s campaign against child food poverty has shown how footballers can make the headlines at the front end of the paper for the right reasons. His campaign has spoken to political power in an attempt to make it change its intransigence; some would say indifference, not just once but twice.
Child food poverty is now a major talking point, a talking point that as Rashford puts it, “Celebrates community and togetherness.”
Brilliantly, this has been recognised by a local graffiti artist, who has painted a mural of Marcus on the side of a Coronation Street style house to say a giant ‘thank you’ on behalf of the community.
A bit closer to home this is what the work of Empty Kitchens Full Hearts, Citadel Youth Centre and others are doing to help the community through Covid-19 and beyond. Volunteers have come from Leith community groups, individual citizens, Leith Rugby Club, Hibs Community Foundation and countless others to help.
Sometimes adversity brings out the best in us and it is these acts of altruism that show our true potential. Leith is not alone in celebrating ‘community and togetherness’ and you don’t have to be alone either.
Choose how you take part but do choose to take part.
Rashford mural in Withington by Akse, Grazie Cuba in Turin, Felix Baez, a 43 year old Cuban doctor who, on recovering from Ebola, promised to return to Sierra Leone