Brazil doesn’t have enough doctors or hospital or clinics to serve its people, especially the impoverished and geographically isolated. That is one of the reasons for the demonstrations in the past few months (another large demonstration is reportedly planned for Sept. 7, Brazil’s Independence Day).
The answer? Import doctors…from Cuba. President Dilma announced that Brazil will import thousands of doctors from Cuba to work in slums and rural areas where doctors and clinics are scarce…and Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota defended the plan last Thursday as a way to give “the best possible medical services for the Brazilian population.”
Brazil’s Health Ministry posted a statement on its website saying it had signed an agreement with the Pan-American Health Organization to hire 4,000 Cuban doctors, who are expected to arrive in Latin America’s largest country by the end of the year. The first 206 doctors arrived on Saturday, August 24, in Recife, in northern Brazil, and another 194 arrived in Salvador on Sunday, August 25. About 250 doctors from other countries arrived in Brazil on Friday, August 23, along with Brazilians who studied abroad. They and the Cubans are part of the “More Doctors” program to get more physicians working in underserved areas.
According to AP reports, the government is bringing in Cuban doctors after failing to attract enough Brazilian and foreign physicians to its “More Doctors” program, meant to send professionals to work in needy urban and rural areas for three years.
The effort has drawn criticism from Brazilian doctors, who say there are plenty of homegrown physicians to work in those areas, if only the government would invest in hospital infrastructure and provide better wages in public health care. Doctors spend an average of 12 years earning their degrees, but are paid insufficient wages in all but the major cities.
The Health Ministry said 3,500 cities and towns across Brazil are taking part in the “More Doctors” program and have requested 15,000 physicians from within Brazil and without to come serve those in need. So far, only 1,300 have signed up. Of that total, 1,000 are Brazilian and 300 are either Brazilian who studied overseas or foreign doctors, mainly from Argentina, Spain, and Portugal.
Foreign doctors in the program will receive a monthly salary of $4,080. In the case of the Cuban doctors, the Brazilian government will send their wages to Cuba’s government through the Pan-American Health Organization. The Cuban government will then decide how much each doctor will receive. This last statement is hugely significant, because I’ve heard that the doctors will receive only 25% of that wage. The Cuban government will keep the rest to “fund the program.” I have no verification of this, but heard it from two sources.
“It’s not slavery,” said Secretary of Health Surveillance, Ministry of Health, Jarbas Barbosa, when asked about the Cuban doctors and whether they come willingly. “They will receive the wages they already receive in Cuba, or what the Cuban Health Ministry pays for foreign missions.” That certainly satisfied my concerns….
Cuban medical schools graduate large classes each year, and those doctors have increasingly been a key source of revenue for the country since the medical missions program began in the early 1960s. Analysts say the export of medical services adds about $6 billion a year to Cuba’s economy. By contrast, tourism, the official No. 1 source of incoming cash, brought in $2.5 billion in 2011, according to the most recent statistics available.
Foreign doctors will first spend three weeks studying Brazil’s public health system and the Portuguese language, before being sent to the favelas and countryside, where they will care for the underserved.
The Federal Medical Council, which oversees the licensing of Brazilian doctors, said in a statement that the hiring of Cuban doctors who cannot speak Portuguese and whose diplomas have not been revalidated locally violates Brazilian laws and human rights by endangering the lives of Brazilians in poor and remote regions.
But what other remedy is there? Until more doctors are willing to serve the impoverished and isolated of Brazil, death and disease will continue to ravish the population. The government must act. Perhaps this is the logical, short-term solution.
One caveat for these doctors. There will be no political asylum granted for any Cuban doctor who works in Brazil as part of the agreement, warned Sao Paulo’s attorney general Luís Inácio Adams. Still, since they are here “voluntarily,” as their communist government claims, that shouldn’t be an issue.
(Sources: AP news service)