Brasilia, Aug 30 — Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defended on Thursday the Brazilian government’s program “More Doctors”, under which foreign professionals will work in poor and remote areas of Brazil that are short of hospital staff.
In a speech marking 30 years of the foundation of the trade union Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), Da Silva also criticized statements of local health professionals against the arrival of foreign doctors to the country.
The former dignitary slammed the attitude of individuals and organizations that criticized doctors from other countries coming to Brazil to work in the Amazon and in remote places where domestic doctors were unwilling to practise.
“These professionals had the greatness, the humanitarian attitude, of opting to work in the most isolated regions of the country,” he asserted.
“Nobody is saying they’ll come to Avenida Paulista (city of Sao Paulo) or Copacabana beach (Rio de Janeiro). We are hiring these doctors to come work here in places where Brazilian doctors do not want to go”, he stressed.
Last week the first group of 644 foreign doctors arrived in Brazil, including some 400 Cubans, which will be allocated on September 16 on their final work destinations in rural and underdeveloped areas of the South American nation.
Earlier, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, also accused the nation’s doctors of “immense prejudice” towards their Cuban counterparts after the first medics to arrive from Havana were greeted with jeers.
Cuban doctors and from other nationalities have been invited to work in Brazil to support the fragile health system – one of the issues that prompted mass protests in June. The government’s Mais Médicos (More Doctors) programme aims to hire 15,000 foreign doctors to cover vaancies in poor and remote areas of Brazil, 4000 of these doctors have been already contracted with Cuba through a deal brokered by the Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO).
Rousseff noted that fewer than 2% of the doctors in Brazil were foreign, compared with rates of 25% in the US and 36% in Canada. The Mais Médicos initiative aims to address the shortage by recruiting health professionals from Portugal, Argentina and elsewhere, but the president said that only the doctors from Havana had been criticised.
“We have seen instances of immense prejudice against the Cuban doctors,” she said. “I can assure you we will do all we can within the law to bring doctors to places where there are no doctors.”
Brazil’s healthcare system is challenged by inequality and vast distances. According to the World Bank, the country has 1.8 doctors for every 1,000 people – well below the 3.2 ratio in neighbouring Argentina, and significantly below those of Mexico, the US and UK.
In the first stage of the programme, Mais Médicos recruited 1,589 doctors, a third of whom were from other nations, including Spain and Russia. But the government has said that almost 10 times this number are needed to fill the gaps in rural areas, particularly in the poor north and north-east of the country.
The shortfall will largely be filled by qualified foreigners, who will be given three-year contracts. The government is also investing in medical colleges and hopes to see a sharp increase in the number of graduates over the next eight years.