Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Letter

Inspiring Minds
Faculty of Arts and
Social Sciences

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, Henrik Ibsens gate 51,
0255 Oslo, Norway

January 19, 2015

Dear Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,

My name is John Kirk. I am Professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and I am writing to nominate the Cuban Medical Internationalism programme for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the fall of 2014 West Africa was devastated by Ebola, and the World Health Organization appealed urgently for medical assistance in a (literally) life-and-death struggle. The first country to respond was Cuba. Some 15,000 medical personnel volunteered, and at the time of writing there are 256 Cuban specialists working in three countries there with another 100 training to join them. They represent the largest medical contingent from any country, despite the fact that Cuba is a relatively small island. In January 2014 Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, summed up this contribution well: “They are always the first to arrive and the last to leave- and they always remain after the crisis. Cuba has a lot to show the entire world …”

While Cuba has a small population (11.2 million), it also has one of the best public health systems in the world, with statistics rivalling those of many developed countries. More importantly, it also has an astounding record of medical internationalism- and its contribution in West Africa is just the latest episode of a record that stretches back to 1960, when Cuban doctors responded to an appeal for support after an earthquake in Chile. Since then over 325,000 Cuban medical personnel have provided assistance in 158 countries, several of whom have served on two or three missions.

While media in the industrialized world have paid little attention to it, the Cuban record in medical cooperation is extraordinary, and the study of this humbling record has been the focus of my research for the past decade. Among the key areas that might be of interest to your committee are the following:

a) As of January 2015 there are 51,847 Cuban medical personnel (of whom 50.1% are physicians) working in 67 countries–mainly in the developing world. In Venezuela there are almost 30,000 medical personnel, in Brazil there are 11,400 doctors and in Africa over 4,000 medical personnel are working in 32 countries. To put this in context, approximately 20% of Cuba’s doctors are working abroad as internacionalistas. This would be the same as having 223,000 US doctors serving in developing countries.

b) The Cuban medical staff in West Africa is part of the Henry Reeve Brigade, formed in 2005, which has provided emergency medical support from Pakistan to Chile, China to Bolivia. In all 41 emergency brigades have been sent to 22 countries. In recent years large contingents have been sent to deal with natural disasters in Guatemala, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, China, El Salvador, Chile. Haiti and the three countries most affected by Ebola.

c) In an attempt to ensure a sustainable healthcare system in many developing countries, Cuba established the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in 1999. To date 24,486 students from 123 countries have graduated as doctors-at no cost to the students. Cuban medical professors have also taught over 20,000 medical graduates in Venezuela, and currently staff 13 medical schools around the world- from Timor Leste to Gambia. In total they have established medical faculties in 15 countries, starting in South Yemen in 1975. Since then medical faculties have been set up in Guyana, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Uganda, Ghana, Angola, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Eritrea, Venezuela, Timor Leste, Bolivia and Tanzania. In total, 38,940 doctors (from 121 countries in Asia, the Americas and Africa) have been trained by Cuban medical professors. At present they are training medical students in South Africa, Ghana, Djibouti, Mozambique, Congo, Uganda, Nicaragua and Ecuador, while residents are being trained in Guatemala and Haiti. Moreover, in developing countries Cuban medical personnel have trained more than 80,000 midwives, 65 health promoters and 3,000 nurses.

d) Since 2004 “Operation Miracle” has restored the sight to 3.4 million patients, from over 30 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including operations on 2,667,000 patients; all surgery has been performed at no cost to the patients in over 30 ophthalmology centres throughout the region.

e) Following the 1986 meltdown at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, Cuba accepted and treated in Havana 25,000 patients (almost all children) from 1989 to 2011. All medical care and accommodation were provided to the patients and family members at no charge.

f) Following requests from the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, several hundred Cuban medical personnel , specialists in physical and mental disabilities carried out nationwide surveys, going door-to-door to assess the medical needs of these communities and indicating therapy to support each patient between 2001 and 2003. More than 1.2 million people with disabilities were discovered, and a Cuba-designed programme to support them was established.

g) Cuba has established the Comprehensive Health Programme (PIS is the Spanish acronym) in dozens of poor countries, mainly in remote areas where there was no medical support. At present it is helping to build a national health programme for Haiti.

h) This longstanding tradition means that over the years Cuban medical personnel have performed 10.8 million surgical operations, attended 2.3 million births, given 12.4 million vaccinations, and saved 5.5 million lives in developing countries.

In sum, for over five decades Cuba has provided medical cooperation to dozens of countries around the world–often ruled by governments which did not even have diplomatic relationships with Cuba.  Inspired by the maxim of 19th century writer-revolutionary Jose Marti that “Patria es humanidad” (All of humanity is our homeland), Cuba’s contribution to the developing world has been exemplary. The leading role that they are playing in West Africa in the campaign against Ebola is just the latest example of this selfless role. To put this all in context, Cuba-a poor, developing country-has more medical staff working in the Global South than all of the G-7 countries combined.

Members of the Norwegian Committee, I thank you for your attention. I hope that you will agree with me that this exceptional decades-long record of medical support by Cuba for scores of countries around the globe is a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization summed up their role in September 2014: “Cuba is famous throughout the world because of its capacity to train excellent doctors and nurses. It is also famous for its generosity and solidarity toward developing countries”. I am therefore delighted to nominate the Cuban medical internationalism programme for the Nobel Peace Prize, and believe wholeheartedly that they would be worthy recipients. If I can be of assistance in providing further data, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

I wish you well in your deliberations.

John W Kirk, Ph.D.,
Chair and Professor of Latin American Studies

PS For your attention I attach a brief biographical summary.

John M. Kirk, Biographical Sketch

Kirk is Chair and Professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Canada, where he has taught for 37 years. He received his B.A. from the University of Sheffield, his M.A. from Queen’s University, and his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. His academic career has been focused contemporary Cuba, and he is the author/co-editor of 16 books and scores of articles in academic journals.

Over the last decade his research has focused on Cuban medical cooperation. He has accompanied Cuban medical personnel in emergency medical missions in El Salvador following a hurricane there, and has observed Cuban doctors throughout Guatemala. During the course of his interview he has interviewed some 270 Cuban medical personnel, as well as students at ELAM. He is the co-author of Cuban Medical Internationalism: Origins, Evolution and Goals (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and the author of “Healthcare Without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism” (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, to be published in June 2015). He has also published articles on Cuban medical cooperation in the International Journal of Cuban Studies, New Internationalist, Temas, Counterpunch, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies, The Latin Americanist, Diplomacy and Statecraft, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Latin American Perspectives, and the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology.