Brazilian doctors don’t like foreigners. Specially when they come to help

agenciabrasilabr082413vcvac_8461Not many countries have a state healthcare system. Brazil does. Not many countries make people commute for 50 km to get some kind of medical attention. Brazil does. Not many countries have a problem with Cuban doctors coming in to help because the Castro brothers have ruled there for decades. Brazil does. Actually, Brazil overall doesn’t. Brazilians just want more doctors. Our medical professionals, though,  reject that very openly — too openly sometimes. By doing that they have shown how xenophobic our elite can be when immigrants of developing countries are involved. It is fair to say they have far less restrictions when Caucasians are concerned…

In the wake of the June protests, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pledged to bring Cuban doctors to help isolated communities. That is what left-leaning Venezuela did, some might say.  That is what very-neutral Canada did, some others said. Brazilian doctors were against it all from the start. In the beginning they said the Cubans didn’t qualify. Then they said it would be unfair for them to earn less than other doctors — the Cuban regime will keep a big part of their wages. Now they promise to take every foreign doctor to court to prove they are working illegally. They will do that despite the slim chances of succeeding. Some of them have mobbed foreigners to criticize them because they are still learning Portuguese (as if it were a world away from Spanish).

It is good to see all the rest of Brazil disagrees with the doctors.

About 700 of Brazil’s 5,564 cities have no doctors at all. The medical professionals claim the real issue is the lack of investment in proper equipment. But in Alagoas, one of these places they don’t want to go to, there was an epidemic of diarrhea that killed a dozen of kids. A recent report showed that parents of low education are one of the reasons for many children to die at a young age. No need for equipment in these cases and in many others. That is why the Brazilian doctors are now as isolated as the communities they refuse to serve. That is why the Cubans have been welcomed. They have resurrected the idea that doctors can still work because of passion. 

Healthcare is supposed to be free in Brazil. But everyone who can gets health insurance. I have used both systems and there is no reason to believe there will be a major improvement in the short term. Private institutions will be even more essential now Brazil’s population is aging. In state hospitals waiting could take too long. Equipment many times is insufficient. And medicines could be expired for too long. Private hospitals are among the best in Latin America and some institutions are global references. The main issue, though, is the lack of doctors.

Almost all our medical professionals come from a very small elite. For ages, they have refused to work in the impoverished areas of the North and of the Northeast. Even those who barely left college usually choose to stay in the big cities, with a gigantic market to tap. No, the issue isn’t wages. Doctors who go deep inland can earn as much as US$ 4,000. But they can earn much more by treating high-spending diseases, such as cancer. After they go to state universities and spend much much more than elementary and high school students, they give nothing back. Average Brazilians know that.

Brazilian doctors want more than stopping foreigners from helping those they won’t help. They want money from the state, even those who profit a lot with their offices. Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia are crowded with doctors that earn some extra cash working for the state once or twice a week. Still, many of these state hospitals are overcrowded. Still, many of these state hospitals don’t have any doctors in some point of the day. There is surely bad governance in some of these health institutions, but there is a lot of greed. Greed by doctors who already come from wealthy families.

The same families that have badly governed Brazil for centuries…

The lack of medical attention in isolated regions is one of the big reasons Brazil’s HDI (Human Development Index) hasn’t improved even more in the last 20 years. Healthcare was the main issue in the campaign trail that gave Rousseff her term. The Health Ministry is the highest spender in the country — a budget of about US$ 50 billion last year. Until the protests gave Rousseff a cue, the plan of bringing doctors in was lying somewhere in Congress. That is how our doctors wanted it to be now. They’d rather keep their lobby on passing another law that would forbid anyone apart from themselves to giving injections.

That is how self-absorbed they are.

Most of the criticism our doctors make go to our friends from the Caribbean. But there is also criticism on Portuguese, Spanish and Argentinian doctors coming. They are likely to be the next targets. Some have already complained about the difficulties for Brazilian doctors to work in Europe. As if this were enough to heal all the wounds they don’t want to heal in Brazil.

Foreigners usually think most of the problems in Latin America have to do with bad governance. It isn’t that simple. Many of the issues have to do with history — it is a region which was almost as exploited as Africa. Others have to do with the ways of our elite. In other words, with that free market that some preach to be the solution to all grievances.

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email:

Posted on 26/08/2013, in Politics, Social and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Nothing easier than to label any oposition as beeing corporative lobbies or interests.
    There is certainly no need to import doctors, either from Cuba or other brazilian regions, to teach poor parents how to prevent GI infections or to adopt other basic sanitary measures other standard preventive measures. Any minimally trained social worker or volunteer is able to do this.
    I studied and worked at the biggest public hospital of São Paulo for more than16 years. And know far to well what it means to work with extremely poor comunities in other regions of the state.
    I assure you that there is nothing that compares do the frustration, impotence and rage while atending a patient that could be saved with a simple injection of antibiotics, an inhalation, a serum, but standing before this same patient and his family with bare hands, with nothing to offer besides shame and moral assistance.
    Please note that I’m not speeking about X-rays, labs, CT’s and so on. Not to mention ambulances to remove these patients to a medical center where at least they might ly on the floor awaiting vacancies for internation.

    While arguing that there are hundreds of comunities with lack of doctors, please check first the conditions under which a doctor could “work” there.

    Neither ideological reasoning nor vote hunting demagogic measures will solve our health problems.

    What imight do the job are an efficient administratios of existing resources and non electoral investment of resources in a better infrastructure.

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