By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian government has been pressured to improve public services, and healthcare has been regularly at the top of the list of grievances voiced in the wave of mass protests that recently swept the country. A recent poll reported that 48 percent of Brazilians believe healthcare to be Brazil’s biggest problem, with education a distant second, at thirteen percent.
In response to the protesters’ demands, President Rousseff has unveiled plans to hire at least 10,000 doctors to work in areas that are currently poorly served by the SUS (National Health System), many of them rural “interior” locations, as part of Brazil’s new Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program.
The program also proposed proposed to create more doctors in the long term, with an extra 11,500 places for medical students over the next four years. The President also said a more immediate solution was also needed for the country’s healthcare issues, and that Brazil would “import” foreign doctors to plug the current deficit in doctors.
Health minister Alexandre Padilha said: “The fundamental question is: Brazil lacks doctors and these measures aim to solve the shortage, especially in primary care. We need to change the mindset that the SUS is just about hospitals – that’s why we are making this effort to bring doctors closer to the people.”
After no more Brazilian nationals are available to fill positions, the Health Ministry says it will focus on hiring doctors from Spain and Portugal, both of which are currently battling chronic levels of unemployment. A plan to bring 6,000 Cuban doctors to Brazil has now been shelved after facing fierce opposition from both the Federal Medicine Council and powerful Brazilian doctors’ associations.
Yet one healthcare professional speaking to The Rio Times said the government will still have trouble filling positions in rural locations, as many doctors do not want to work due to poor living conditions, and that foreign doctors will similarly not tolerate conditions where infrastructure is lacking and doctors’ remit is stretched far beyond what is encountered in richer cities.
Other doctors speaking to the media have downplayed the need for extra doctors, and instead point to the system’s inefficient way of using what it already has as its biggest downfall.
“What we have is not a lack of doctors but a lack of infrastructure and supplies that would allow for a better distribution of doctors where they are needed,” Dr. José Luiz Leão told the NYT.
Plans to add two more years to the medical graduation course from 2015, during which training doctors will have to work in the SUS, has also proved controversial and have angered medical students.
Diésica Prochnow, a sixth-year medical student at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, tells The Rio Times she is outraged by the plans as the six years doctors currently take to graduate already include two years gaining experience at public hospital wards.
“The Mais Médicos program is an unfair, ill-conceived and reactionary step. The two extra years are unnecessary and will not encourage those graduating to work in the SUS, but instead ‘cheapen’ and devalue the profession by creating a class of ‘half-doctors’,” Diésica believes.
The medical student, who is set to graduate in just a few months, says many in the profession believe there is already money and the human resources necessary to improve the SUS, but that politicians lack motivation to make a career in the public sector attractive.
Of the 1,557 most vulnerable municipalities set to benefit from the extra doctors, 135 are in the southeast region and eight in Rio de Janeiro itself.
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