Ebola epidemic in Africa: Cuban medical experience in this international health emergency (I)


Ebola epidemic in Africa: Cuban medical experience in this international health emergency (I)


Epidemia de ébola en África: experiencia médica cubana en esta emergencia sanitaria internacional (I)



Rafael Rufino Corona Pérez

Villa Clara Medical Sciences University. Cuba. E-mail: rafaelcorona@infomed.sld.cu



In view of the emergent situation of the presence of Ebola in Sierra Leone, the government requested help to the Cuban leaders; Immediately afterwards there were sent medical collaborating personnel, from the "Henry Reeve"; Specialized International Contingent in Situations of Disasters and Serious Epidemics; they acted in consequence with their preparation for the confrontation to contingencies of any type and in correspondence with their strong political and ideological preparation. After having acted with success and total devotion to the commended mission, they were considered as heroes and they received national and international recognitions. Objectives of this research paper are to get closer to the work carried out as a source of historical knowledge for its study by the students of the medical sciences, and to emphasize in the humanism and the solidarity that characterize the Cuban health professionals.

MeSH: internationality, epidemics, disaster medicine, history, education, medical.


Ante la situación emergente de la presencia del ébola en Sierra Leona, el gobierno solicitó ayuda a los mandatarios cubanos; de inmediato fueron enviados colaboradores médicos, agrupados en el Contingente Internacional Especializado en Situaciones de Desastres y Graves Epidemias "Henry Reeve"; estos actuaron en consecuencia con su preparación para el enfrentamiento a contingencias de cualquier tipo y en correspondencia con su fuerte preparación política e ideológica. Después de haber actuado con éxito y total entrega en la misión encomendada, se les consideró como héroes y recibieron reconocimientos nacionales e internacionales. Constituyen objetivos de esta comunicación ofrecer un acercamiento a la labor realizada como fuente de conocimiento histórico para su estudio por los alumnos de las ciencias médicas, y enfatizar en el humanismo y la solidaridad que caracteriza a los profesionales cubanos de la salud.

DeCS: internacionalidad, epidemias, medicina de desastres, historia, educación médica.

Editorial Note

The participation of Cuban health professionals in the global campaign against Ebola was an unprecedented event in the history of humanity, in the history of Cuba, and in particular in the history of Cuban medicine that demands to be studied, researched and divulged. Their contributions and experiences should be introduced in undergraduate and postgraduate study programs not only because of the historical aspects, but also because of their impact in the medical sciences and because it is a serious health problem that is far from being solved, so outbreaks of the deadly disease are possible, since the conditions that originated it remain intact. From this issue on, EDUMECENTRO journal will publish a group of articles under the title: Epidemic of Ebola in Africa: Cuban medical experience in this international health emergency, authored by Dr. Rafael Rufino Corona Pérez, member of the "Henry Reeve" International Specialized Contingent in Disaster Situations and Severe Epidemics and professor of Villa Clara University of Medical Sciences, who writes his experiences as vivid testimony of what happened in those months, where the intellect, perseverance, courage and struggle for life prevailed facing the health disaster and were proclaimed victorious. In these research paper has been respected the writing in first person by the psychological implication of the facts that are narrated in the personality of the mentioned doctor.



On August 8 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an International Public Health Emergency Declaration on the Ebola Epidemic in West Africa, reaching a total of 1000 deaths since March. A few days earlier her director general, Margaret Chan, had contacted the Cuban authorities through her representative in Havana.

On August 13, the United Nations called for a global response to the crisis and on the 29th, the Cuban government received the official request for help from Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In one of the parts of the letter addressed to President Raúl Castro, he said:

"(...) It is with sadness, anxiety and despair that I address you to talk about the unprecedented outbreak of the terrible Ebola virus that is devastating our sub region and claiming the lives of our citizens, including the frontline health workers. This terrible scourge has created a health crisis of threatening proportions menacing peace, security and stability in Sierra Leone".

"(...) As a true friend of Sierra Leone, I address you in this time of distress to assist us with the necessary specialists and technicians who will make use of their experience to combat this serious health crisis".

On September 9, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon personally called on the presidents of the three rich nations that in the past had colonized or neo-colonized the affected countries of Africa: the United States, Great Britain and France, and to the president of a small country that had fought with the Africans for their independence in the second half of the twentieth century: Cuba.1

The request of the UN and the WHO to the Cuban people expresses the confidence and a true recognition of the world to the Cuban people, forged in the struggle against difficulties and united by the decision to be free and independent from what it has become a paradigm to be recognized as a heroic, courageous and humanitarian people.

The Cuban collaborators who participate in the struggle against Ebola are the expression of a profound revolutionary formation of a people prepared for the confrontation to contingencies of any type based on a strong political and ideological preparation and a patriotic conviction whose fundamental values are humanism, dignity, intransigence and intolerance in view of all foreign domination and proletarian internationalism.

During the campaign we were considered heroes and we accepted the recognition for being sons of a heroic people when we know that we only fulfill a professional duty that ethically demonstrates how far the commitment of the Cuban people can reach and the height of the health professionals who massively requested their participation in the "Suicide Campaign" as it was initially called.

The recognition of the world was expressed again in February 2015 when the "Henry Reeve" Brigade was proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize and we were pleasantly impressed to know that among those proposed was Pope Francis whom I greatly admire for his humanitarian actions. I have to recognize, from my personal experience in dealing with disasters such as those in Haiti and Sierra Leone, that the incidence of religion was fundamental in integrating forces and organization into communities and it was a great strength as a form of social consciousness of the prevailing ideology in these geographical spaces.

On October 4, 2014, as published in the Granma newspaper, Fidel Castro Ruz, said:
"(...) The sending of the first medical brigade to Sierra Leone, one of the highlights of the cruel epidemic of Ebola, is an example of which a country can take pride of, since it is not possible to reach at this moment a seat of greater honor and glory. If no one had the slightest doubt that hundreds of thousands of soldiers who went to Angola and to other countries of Africa or America, they gave humanity an example that can never be forgotten in human history, I´ll never be in doubt that the heroic action of the army of White coats will occupy a very high place of honor in that history".

On July 9, 2015, 248 members of the brigade were awarded with the "Carlos J. Finlay" Order granted by the Council of State. The four dead were also received postmortem: two in Africa and two in Cuba. In the letter of President Raúl Castro, reproduced on the site Cubadebate of July 8, 2015, read in the award ceremony said:

"(...) After having fulfilled the honorable mission that took them to West Africa six months ago, even at the risk of their own lives, to combat the outbreak of ebola that plagued that continent, they returned to the Homeland which received them with the greatest pride".

For several months, not only braveness, consecration and man´s sacrifice were tested while facing the threat of an unknown epidemic by Cubans; but also the intellectual preparation of health professionals, and their humanistic, and solidarity values and in correspondence with the revolutionary principles that have constituted paradigms in their comprehensive formation.


Declaration of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.



1. Ubieta Gómez E. Zona Roja. La experiencia cubana del ébola. La Habana: Ediciones Abril; 2016.



Submitted: January 17 2017.
Accepted: February 22 de 2017.



Rafael Rufino Corona Pérez.Villa Clara Medical Sciences University. Cuba. E-mail: rafaelcorona@infomed.sld.cu

Copyright (c) 2017 EDUMECENTRO