Brazil Fails to Replace Cuban Doctors, Hurting Health Care of 28 Million
“Our Cuban brothers will be freed,” Mr. Bolsonaro said in an official campaign proposal presented to electoral authorities. “Their families will be allowed to migrate to Brazil. And, if they pass the revalidation, they will begin to receive the entire amount that was being robbed by the Cuban dictators!”
Two weeks after Mr. Bolsonaro won the presidency in October, Cuba ordered all its doctors out.
37,000 young children at risk of death
Access to free health care is a right under Brazilian law, and Mais Médicos was enacted in 2013 by President Dilma Rousseff in a bid to provide medical care to communities that were not being served by the public health system. Through a network of free clinics, the program provided 60 million Brazilians with access to a family doctor in their community for the first time.
In the first four years of Mais Médicos, the percentage of Brazilians receiving primary care rose to 70 percent from 59.6 percent, according to a report by the Pan-American Health Organization, which coordinated Cuba’s participation in the program.
The withdrawal of Cuban doctors could reverse that trend, with the consequences especially severe for those under 5, potentially leading to the deaths of up to 37,000 young children by 2030, warned Dr. Gabriel Vivas, an official with the Pan-American Health Organization.
In February, it looked as if Mr. Bolsonaro would fulfill his promise: the national Health Ministry announced that all of the positions left vacant by Cuba’s withdrawal had been filled with Brazilian doctors. But by April, thousands of the new recruits had either quit or failed to show up for work in the first place.
More than 2,000 Cuban doctors have chosen to remain in Brazil, defying the call to return home. But with the special arrangement with Cuba terminated, they are now ineligible to practice medicine until they pass an exam — which the Brazilian government has not offered since 2017 and for which the Health Ministry has set no date.
Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Brazil’s health minister, said the new government was working on a bill to ensure the goals of Mais Médicos were achieved and the doctors replaced.