They traveled to Africa to fight the fiercest of battles against death. The mere name of the enemy was frightening: Ebola. They did not relent and they triumphed. They went armed with nothing more than the commitment of those who would give up their own lives in the effort to save others.
Two years later, in the same square from which they departed in October 2014, in the Central Unit of Medical Cooperation, the Cuban professionals of the Henry Reeve Brigade who participated in the fight against the Ebola virus in West Africa were awarded the medal commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) by the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba.
"The medical professionals who travel to any location whatsoever to save lives, even at the risk of losing their own, provide the greatest example of solidarity a human being can offer, above all when no material interest whatsoever exists as a motivation," Fidel wrote in his reflections when the 256 Cuban health professionals left for Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry and Liberia; words that were recalled by the Deputy Minister of Public Health (Minsap), Marcia Cobas Ruiz, during the awards ceremony.
"With the spirit of victory that prevailed in the 82 men who arrived on Cuban shores aboard the Granma yacht, those who fought in the Sierra and those who entered Havana triumphantly, the army of white coats reaffirms that they will always have in every battle the conviction that it was possible, is possible, that they can and will fight and be victorious," the deputy minister added.
The tribute was presided by the Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, member of the Party Political Bureau; and Major General Elfre Pérez Zaldívar, head of the Logistics Department of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces; among other Minsap officials and FAR officers. Also unveiled was a site to honor the 291 health professionals who have died in the fulfillment of their missions during more than 50 years of health collaboration.
"Never before had a Cuban health contingent, in the more than 50 years of Cuban international medical collaboration, traveled to somewhere in the world to face such a perilous task, endangering their own lives," recalled Dr. Felipe Delgado Bustillo, member of the Henry Reeve Brigade in Sierra Leone, on behalf of those recognized.
"This medal will be proudly worn by the members of the Henry Reeve Brigade, and we thank the Revolution for giving us this honorable mission, for having the confidence in us to fulfill it," he added, while reaffirming the commitment of the Cuban doctors to maintain their achievements and continue to offer solidarity and commitment to the just causes of the peoples.
Emiliano Sosa de la Cruz, a pediatrician from Segundo Frente in Santiago de Cuba, told Granma that Sierra Leone was a complex mission. "We went with the intention of combating the epidemic and even though we did not know what awaited us there, we did so with all the will and humanism that characterizes Cuban doctors. It was a great experience from which the gratitude for the lives we saved, the smiles we gave back, remains with us," he said.
He added, however, "The sadness regarding those we could not save, because they came to us in a very complicated state of health, remains with us."
In addition to Ebola, patients arrived suffering from malnutrition, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. "We left that mark on the affected people of Africa, which demonstrates that the Cuban people did not abandon them. We were there to the end and we beat the epidemic," he recalled.
"I have pleasant and other not-so-good memories of the mission," Víctor Lázaro Guerra Viera, a nursing graduate from the province of Pinar del Río, told Granma.
"There we lost a compañero, that really hit us, it was a very difficult time. When leaving Cuba, we knew what we were going to face, aware that our country's name and Cuban health should be honored."
"For us it is a source of pride and an honor to belong to the Henry Reeve brigade who participated in the fight against Ebola," he concluded.