08/22/13 - Wall Street Journal - Brazil To Import 4000 Cuban Doctors To Work in Needy Areas
By Paul Kiernan
RIO DE JANEIRO--Brazil's government has closed a deal to import Cuban
doctors to work in underserved regions of the country, after efforts to
attract Brazilians and foreigners from other countries failed to draw
The Brazilian Health Ministry signed an agreement Wednesday with the
U.S.-based Pan-American Health Organization, or PAHO, to bring 4,000
doctors from Cuba by the end of the year. They will participate in a
program--known as Mais Medicos, or "more doctors"--that the government
launched in July amidst massive street demonstrations calling for better
public services such as healthcare.
Under the program, Brazil's federal government pays doctors a monthly
salary of 10,000 Brazilian reais ($4,098) to work three years in urban
slums and other needy areas such as rural towns, the Amazon River basin and
impoverished northeastern states, where medics have long been scarce. In
the case of doctors from Communist-run Cuba, the money will be channeled
through PAHO from the Brazilian government to the Cuban government, a
Health Ministry official said.
The plan, which was initially announced in May, sparked a backlash from
some Brazilian medical groups, which called into question the
qualifications their Cuban counterparts. It also drew comparisons with
Venezuela, where the late President Hugo Chavez famously sent the Castro
regime cheap oil in exchange for thousands of Cuban healthcare
In presenting the Mais Medicos program last month, officials downplayed
negotiations with PAHO and Cuba, saying they were mainly targeting doctors
from Spain and Portugal and would only admit professionals who spoke
Portuguese and had medical training that met Brazilian standards. In all
cases, Brazilian doctors will have priority over foreigners.
But after the first registration period, which ended August 13, only 1,096
Brazilians and 522 foreigners--mostly from Argentina and Spain--had signed
up for Mais Medicos.
The 3,500 municipalities participating in the program had requested more
than 15,000 doctors.
"Through this agreement with PAHO, we're going to expand the number of
doctors in precisely those municipalities where there's greatest difficulty
in bringing professionals," Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said
Wednesday in a press release. The first group of Cuban doctors will arrive
in Brazil for a three-week preparation course this weekend, and the
government expects to spend BRL511 million bringing the rest here by
Joaquin Molina, PAHO's representative in Brazil, said the Cubans are
"experienced doctors who have already worked in Portuguese-speaking
countries and are specialized in family medicine."
Though infrastructure and medical supplies are lacking in much of the
country, Brazilian health officials say a shortage of doctors is their most
urgent challenge. Brazil has 1.8 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, fewer than
most developed nations as well as regional neighbors Argentina and Mexico.
International agreements prohibit Brazil from seeking doctors in countries
that have fewer per capita than it does, which rules out former Portuguese
colonies in Africa. Cuba, meanwhile, has 6.7 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants,
according to the World Health Organization.
Write to Paul Kiernan at email@example.com
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