Brazil keeping door open for Cuban doctors
CUBA STANDARD — The Brazilian Health Ministry denied it dropped the idea
of contracting Cuban doctors and said it may restart negotiations with Cuba.
Brazil’s foreign minister announced in May his government was
negotiating with Cuba to contract 6,000 doctors under the Mais Médicos
(More Doctors) program. On July 8, in an apparent response to Brazilian
medical associations’ protests, health ministry officials said they
temporarily suspended the negotiations.
Health Minister Alexandre Padilha recently talked about giving priority
to doctors from Spain and Portugal. Physicians from these countries
offer more “guarantees in terms of specialization,” Padilha said. Brazil
also signed an agreement with Argentina about joint training of medical
Even so, the health ministry may not be able to reach the numbers it
wants. After a first round of individual contracting that ended July 31,
1,753 professionals signed up with Mais Médicos, according to the
ministry, far below the program promoters’ ambitions to deploy some
15,000 doctors in underserved areas of the country. A second round of
hiring will begin Aug. 15, after which the ministry will assess its needs.
During the wave of demonstrations in June, which partly targeted bad
public healthcare, President Dilma Rousseff promised emergency measures
to provide medical services to Brazilians “as fast as possible” and
increased the budget for Mais Médicos from $3.55 billion to $5.61 billion.
“The ministry is working with the model of individual calls,” said a
communiqué released Aug. 5. “Once this process is closed, the ministry
is open to discuss with other countries, including Cuba, the possibility
to establish other forms of cooperation, be that with governments or
Cuba provides its doctors as a group, through a state company.
Mais Médicos offers contracts for 15,000 doctors to be deployed in rural
and poor urban areas. The program, launched July 8, explicitly includes
the option to contract foreign physicians, should the number of
Brazilian doctors be insufficient.
Brazilian physicians’ organizations immediately attacked the program
after the government announced it; the doctors’ criticism targeted
mainly the hiring of foreign doctors and was amplified by street
protests and physicians’ strikes in June.
Arguing that bad healthcare in Brazil is not caused by a lack of
doctors, but due to insufficient resources for hospitals and clinics,
two physicians’ organizations, CMF (Conselho Federal de Medicina) and
Fenam (Federação Nacional dos Médicos) sued the ministries of health and
education over Mais Médicos. Foreign doctors who didn’t study in Brazil
should pass a challenging exam and prove they master the Portuguese
language, the organizations maintain. Brazilian courts have thrown out
two of five lawsuits against Mais Médicos.
Mais Médicos is supported by the Brazilian Association of Municipalities
(ABM), which argues that the lack of doctors in poor areas makes it
necessary to recruit foreign doctors for “immediate solutions.”
According to government surveys, there are only 1.8 doctors per 1,000
inhabitants in Brazil, representing a deficit of 50,000 doctors. The
deficit is most pronounced in the Northeast, the Amazon region, and in
poor suburbs of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Cuba has 6.7 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants; many of the country’s
physicians specialize in rural and low-income medicine.
A Brazilian contract would be a major breakthrough for Cuba’s ambitions
to turn medical service exports into hard-currency business. As it was
originally structured, Brazil would have offered Cuba’s second-largest
for-pay contract for deployment of medical personnel abroad.
Under a decade-old oil-for-services agreement, more than 20,000 Cuban
healthcare workers are deployed in Venezuela. On a smaller scale, Cuba
is providing for-pay medical services in Portugal, Qatar, Algeria and
elsewhere. Also, Norway and Brazil have funded medical relief efforts
involving Cuban doctors in Haiti.
Source: “Brazil keeping door open for Cuban doctors « Cuba Standard,
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