By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Groups that represent Brazilian doctors published an open letter criticizing the harsh conditions imposed by the Programa Mais Médicos (More Doctors Program) on its participants on Sunday, February 9th. The Federal Council of Medicine (CFM), the National Federation of Doctors and the Brazilian Medical Association described the program enacted by President Dilma Rousseff as an “attack on human, individual and labor rights.”
In their statement, the organizations embrace a “full repudiation of the attacks on human, individual and labor rights to which foreign and Brazilian doctors have been subjected” through the More Doctors program. Announced following nationwide protests over the poor quality of public services, including healthcare, in Brazil last July, the controversial initiative has been bringing mostly foreign doctors to underserved areas across Brazil since September 2013.
The groups also expressed their “outrage over the irresponsibility of the Ministry of Health for the omissions that have resulted in impaired working conditions, financial losses and moral damage” among others, reads a letter posted to the CFM’s website. They called on the Federal Prosecutor, the Ministry of Labor and Supreme Court to investigate all “evidence of irregularities” in the recruitment of foreign health professionals for the program.
The statement comes just four days after Ramona Matos Rodriguez, a Cuban doctor and participant in More Doctors, defected from the program and sought asylum in Brazil over what she claimed was an unfair paycheck for her work in the Pará town of Pacajá in the Amazon.
“I think I was fooled by Cuba. They did not tell me that Brazil would be paying R$10,000 for the service of foreign doctors. They said that I would be receiving US$400 here and US$600 [in Cuba] when the contract finished,” Rodriguez said from the headquarters of the Democratas (DEM), a center-right political party, in Brasília. The DEM has opposed the More Doctors Program since its implementation last September.
“Other doctors receive R$10,000 to do the same thing I am doing. Brazil gives Cuba R$10,000 for each doctor. The question is where is the other part of that money going?” Rodriguez asked the press during a conference with the DEM leadership in Brasília.
More Doctors Program supporters have charged federal deputy, Ronaldo Caiado (DEM), one of the main critics of the measure, with using Rodriguez to stir opposition against the program ahead of President Rousseff’s reelection bid in November.
Caiado presented the contract Rodriguez signed with the Mercantile Society of Commercialization of Cuban Services for her work in Brazil in Congress last week. According to Brazil’s federal government, Rodriguez and all other Cuban doctors were hired through an agreement with the Pan-American Health Organization. Caiado accused the Federal Police of tapping Rodriguez’s phone calls and of hiring “slave work.”
The Workers’ Party (PT) leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Arlindo Chinaglia, shot back at the criticism, arguing that Caiado was “lying.” “The contract was analyzed by the Chamber and the Senate, and I have a copy. If the Pan-American Health Organization feels good or bad in that role, if Cuba feels good about it, it is not Brazil’s place to judge,” Chinaglia said to the Chamber.
The Ministry of Labor met with Rodriguez last Monday to discuss the conditions to which she was subjected as a Mais Médicos participant. Rodriguez alleged that she was told by Cuba that she was not to travel outside her city of residence without prior authorization or befriend Brazilians. The Ministry of Labor concluded that there had, in fact, been “irregularities” with the hiring of Cuban doctors under international labor laws.
On its part, the Brazilian Medical Association, which has been in fervent opposition to the law since its inception last year, hired Rodriguez for an administrative role this week. According to the organization’s president, Florentino Cardoso, Rodriguez is currently forbidden from practicing medicine in Brazil, but will be paid R$3,000 per month to fulfill administrative duties at the organization.