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Brazil plan to import thousands of Cuban doctors criticized

May 11, 2013|By Vincent Bevins

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- A Brazilian government plan to import 6,000 Cuban doctors to practice in needy areas is being greeted with criticism from  local medical professionals.

Much of the medical care in Brazil is concentrated in rich, densely populated urban centers, leaving more distant parts of the country, especially the Amazon jungle, underserved.

The presence of Cuban doctors in Venezuelan slums has been one of the flagship social programs of the Chavista governments there. The Cuban-doctor program in Brazil would be proportionally much smaller than that in Venezuela.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota announced the plan after a visit by Cuba's foreign minister Monday. “Given the deficit of medical professionals in Brazil," he said, "this is a cooperation that has great promise and potential, and also has strategic value.”

But Brazil’s Federal Medical Council, or CFM, issued a statement saying   foreign doctors would need to have their qualifications validated in Brazil first and would not be granted special dispensation.

“Those kinds of measures break the law, lead to pseudo care with more risks for the population and, in addition to being temporary, are reckless due to their electoral and political nature,” the council said.

A small number of foreign doctors were accredited in Brazil last year, so it's possible the Cuban practitioners can have their qualifications validated.

Brazil has a free universal healthcare system, but quality is often so low that those who can afford it opt for private care. In downtown Sao Paulo, patients who want to be seen for a non-emergency consultation can either pay about $50 and be seen promptly or line up at 6 a.m. outside the hospital and wait to be seen.

Despite economic advances in the last decade, much of Brazil -- a country roughly twice the size of the European Union -- is still poor. Few Brazilian doctors are eager to take jobs deep in the countryside or jungle.

The city of Sao Paulo has four times as many doctors per person as the northern jungle region of the country. In some cases, a trip to a doctor may mean many hours on a bus or boat.

When asked if any doctor was better than no doctor, CFM President Carlos Vital responded in the negative.

“Pseudo treatment is worse than no treatment,” he said. “If you don’t have a doctor in your city, you can go to the next city and have a quality doctor.”

But horror stories abound in the current system, from unattended patients bleeding profusely in hallways and waiting rooms to lethal medical mistakes. Late last year, the country was shocked by the death of a woman in a Rio de Janeiro hospital who had coffee and milk injected into her veins.

Bringing in Cuban doctors could also depress the wages of Brazilian doctors, said Telmo Ronzani, a specialist in public health at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora.

“The salaries Cubans get at home are very low,” he said. “This would be a temporary solution, but we need to invest in long-term solutions for our healthcare system and infrastructure.”

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