By Rick Arnold, Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians
Cuba’s medical health teams nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize
A year has passed since the first COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Canada. Our federal and provincial governments were ill-prepared when this pandemic hit. The Caribbean island of Cuba, on the other hand, was well prepared and swung into action immediately. Cuba’s medical internationalism was on full display during 2020, with their pandemic-trained medics invited to 40 countries on four continents. For this unparalleled humanitarian service, Cuba’s medical teams have received some 50 Nominations for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
How did the Council of Canadians’ Nobel nomination process begin?
On March 27, 2020, 34 First Nations from Manitoba sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau requesting that a pandemic-trained Cuban medical team be allowed to come to work with Manitoba’s isolated Indigenous communities. The federal response to this First Nations’ request was immediate – on March 30, 2020 it was flatly rejected.
The Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians took exception to this federal rejection of a sensible First Nations’ plan. On April 1, the chapter sent a letter to then-Intergovernmental Minister Freeland calling on her to reverse that decision.
By May 2020, the global clamour for pandemic-trained Cuban medical teams was ramping up, with Canada being the only country to formally reject pandemic support from such a contingent. The Northumberland Chapter of the Council submitted a resolution to the Council’s Annual Members Meeting in June 2020, calling on the Council to support a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Cuba’s medical internationalism, which was approved.
The first step in this nomination process was to find a nominator who could meet the strict criteria set out by the Oslo Nobel committee. To our great delight, John Kirk, a Professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie met the criteria and agreed to nominate the Cuban medical teams. The necessary documentation was submitted in October, becoming the very first nomination to arrive in Oslo.
Next, we worked to garner support from eminent Canadians and national organizations. The response from all quarters to this initiative was overwhelmingly positive. We also published an opinion piece with rabble.ca.
The period for the Nobel Peace Prize nominations closed on January 31, 2021, and the successful 2021 Nobel Peace Prize recipient will be announced in the Fall.
What Canada can learn from Cuba
Canada was ill-prepared for COVID-19. ”Old” stocks of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) had been destroyed prior to the arrival of the coronavirus, and never replenished. In 2018, Canada closed its Global Public Health Intelligence Network depriving the country (and the world) of an early warning system for global pandemics. In recent decades, our political leaders have promoted austerity measures that have whittled away funding for Canada’s health care system, leaving us weaker and less protected than we could be.
In contrast, in 2005 Cuba’s leadership decided to build on their exemplary health care system. They determined that in this new millennium, there would be an increase in natural disasters and a global acceleration in pandemic outbreaks as a result of a climate crisis. Over a period of 15 years, Cuba trained thousands of specialized medical responders who would be able to mobilize rapidly on a world-wide basis and did so in response to COVID-19.
Canada’s professional front-line health workers could have handled the coronavirus challenge better had the deck not been stacked against them from the start. Additional support from pandemic-trained Cuban doctors and nurses could have minimized workers’ burnout as well as helped save Canadian lives, particularly in isolated Indigenous communities. The advent of new coronavirus variants once again points to the need for some timely support for our overextended medical professionals.
While it is understandable that Canada would want to ensure a coronavirus vaccination for every citizen who wishes one, wealthy countries with easier financial access to such pharmaceuticals should be careful not to order far in excess of their eventual requirements. On average, G7 countries have ordered four to five doses per person (most approved vaccines require two doses per person). Canada has more than nine doses per person on order. Procurement on such a massive scale by wealthy countries crowds out access to vaccines for poorer nations. As the September 23, 2020 throne speech concluded: “We cannot eliminate this pandemic in Canada unless we end it everywhere”.
Canada once had a publicly owned pharmaceutical company, Connaught Labs, that could have developed affordable treatments and vaccines, and thus would have made a difference in the current coronavirus crisis - except that the government sold it.
Cuba, on the other hand, has home grown pharmaceutical companies working on five vaccine candidates, one in the third and final stage of testing. Cuba expects to have most of its population vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of this year and is working to have millions of low cost doses available to share with other Caribbean and Latin American countries.
Cuba’s Ambassador recognizes the Council for our work
The Council of Canadians extends our appreciation to Cuba’s Ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, for her recognition of the Council and the Northumberland Chapter for the part they played in the nomination of Cuba’s pandemic-trained Henry Reeve Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition to recognizing the Nobel Peace Prize nomination, Ambassador Vidal sent a warm salute to the Council for its history of work for social change; “Thank you as well for firmly defending just causes in this increasingly troubled world. This selfless act of the Council of Canadians makes us confirm that a better and more caring world is possible”.