The "Henry Reeve" Cuban Medical contingent: example of altruism consolidated through the Cuban medical education


The "Henry Reeve" Cuban Medical contingent: example of altruism consolidated through the Cuban medical education


El Contingente Médico Cubano "Henry Reeve": ejemplo de altruismo consolidado desde la educación médica cubana

"We form professionals willing to fight death. We will demonstrate that there is an answer for many of the tragedies of the planet. We demonstrate that the human being can be and should be better. We demonstrate the value of consciousness and ethics. We offer lives."

Fidel Castro Ruz.



(In the constituent ceremony of the "Henry Reeve "International contingent of Specialized Doctors in Situations of Disasters and Serious Epidemics; 2005).

It has always called my attention the meaning of the word "altruism", which is synonym of generosity, openhandedness, nobility and unselfishness; it is also defined as the behavior that increases the conservation probabilities of others at the expense of a reduction of its own ones, to be constructively good to others to live an empathic experience; in short, personal sacrifice in benefit to others.

According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy1, the referred word comes from the French one altruisme and it means "the diligence to procure good to your fellow men at the expense of its own one".

Altruism in etiology and, consequently, in the evolutionary biology, it is the pattern of animal behavior, in which an individual puts at risk its life to protect and to benefit other members of the group. Almost all these theories explain altruism as the phenomenon in which some genes or individuals of the same specie benefit others at the expense of its own one". This attitude would be a way to guarantee the continuity of its genetic information. In spite of it, this theory is insufficient to explain the altruistic behaviors that are developed towards non related individuals, that is to say, with those that genetic information is not shared.

I make these first reflections because I think that an authentic example of altruism in Cuba, and particularly in the public health, it is the "Henry Reeve" International contingent of Specialized Doctors in Situations of Disasters and Serious Epidemics, composed by graduate professionals from the universities of medical sciences, they have proposed, as one of their fundamental missions, the education of their students in human and revolutionary values, since the moment they entered these institutions.

Who was Henry Reeve?2

He was a young North American who left Brooklyn, U S A when he was nineteen years old, to join the Cuban emancipating cause during the Ten Years´ War and to become Brigadier General of the Liberating Army. Well-known in Camagüey by the nickname "Enrique el Americano ", but in the rest of the country, either by Cubans or Spaniards, as "El inglesito". This is a true example of solidarity and manifest humanism since the first stages of the struggle for the Cuban independence, among so many others from numerous countries.

There is a particular aspect in which it is necessary to make emphasis and it is the fact that the doctors who compose this special contingent have been formed in the prestigious universities of medical sciences of the country through all the years of the Revolution, , under the principles of the Cuban medical ethics that contribute to the formation of human resources for health in Cuba, with that ALTRUISM, in capital letters, it´s the one we are referring to.

All society that aspires to a humanist professional practice, the social conception on a doctor's work, particularly, it is related to its preparation and motivation to offer its help without reflecting in obstacles and difficulties.

The Cuban medical education has always been characterized by its systematic and unshakeable function of offering an education to health professionals based on the improvement of values as humanism and solidarity through curricular and extracurricular action.

Humanism is the love towards the human beings and the concern for the full development of all on the base of justice3,4. In the doctor's condition, to be benevolent, to dedicate all knowledge and efforts to the prevention, recovery and rehabilitation of health, to be sensitive in front of other problems and to contribute to solve them, it is a high-priority in their professional performance.

On the other hand solidarity is the commitment not only in idea but also in action with others´ good, to be identified with the internationalist policy of the Cuban revolution and with the fair causes of other people, to lend disinterested help whenever they need it. It is always to be attentive to all the people that surround us3,4.

The work of the referred contingent, reason of this editorial, matches with Fidel Castro's thought since " History will acquit me", when he announced which the health policy in Cuba would be once the revolutionary victory comes true and the principles of the doctors' formation.

Values as a phenomenon of the social consciousness lead men´s performance, it beautifies the dreams that guide their activity and they are an ideological expression of their interests; it is a continuous process that begins in the family with the attention and education of the child and it gets to the university, including the postgraduate education. These postulates illustrate the performance of the Henry Reeve", Cuban medical contingent "which constitutes a true example in the formation of human resources, as specialized doctors in situations of disasters and serious epidemics, without precedents in the history of the Cuban medical education as well as in other parts of the world. This white coats army won the recognition, love and respect of millions of human beings in the planet, for their professionalism and the human values that characterize them, which motivated to be considered to obtain the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 2015, proposition made by the Annual Conference of Norwegian Union Leaders.

At present, one of the brigades is in the Republic of Ecuador, in the territory that was devastated by an earthquake of 7,8 degrees in the Richter´s scale. Once again they offer their warm supportive help and they manifest the altruism of the Cuban medicine.

Get to these health professionals who attended the classrooms of the medical sciences faculties and universities, who were trained under the ethical principles of the Cuban health educational policy, our most sincere appreciation, admiration and respect from the editorial board of EDUMECENTRO Journal.


MD. Paz Maritza Franco Pérez.
Editor in Chief of EDUMECENTRO Electronic journal.
Santa Clara, April 23, 2016.



1. Diccionario de la lengua española. Edición del Tricentenario [Internet]. 2016. Disponible en:

2. Ramonet I. Cien horas con Fidel. La Habana. Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado; 2006.

3. Torres Pérez L, Noa Castillo Y, Primelles Rivero J, Barreto Lacaba RM. Principios y valores éticos en el médico. [Internet]. 2013 [citado 21 Abr 2016];18(184):[aprox. 5 p.]. Disponible en:

4. Ministerio de Educación. Programa director para el reforzamiento de valores fundamentales en la sociedad cubana actual. La Habana: Mined; 2006.



MD. Maritza Franco Pérez. Villa Clara. University of medical sciences. Cuba. E mail:

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