COVID-19 exposes cracks in Brazil’s public health system

A Brazilian COVID-19 patient is moved on Jul 15, 2020 from a plane equipped as an ICU unit into an ambulance on the way to the Santarem Field Hospital, as the country’s public health care system struggles to keep up with the coronavirus.

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s public healthcare system, considered among the world’s most advanced when it was launched, is being pushed to the brink by the coronavirus pandemic, which has exposed the impact of years of under-funding and mismanagement.

As Brazil closes in on 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 – the second country in the world to reach that bleak milestone, after the United States – the public healthcare system is struggling to care for those who depend on it.

Launched in 1988, the so-called SUS – for Sistema Unico de Saude, or Single Health System – was modelled on Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

It was created when Brazil adopted a new constitution to steer it out of its 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

The constitution states that “health is a universal right and a duty of the state.”

More than 70 per cent of Brazil’s 212 million people depend exclusively on the public health care system.

The SUS is one of the only systems in Latin America to offer universal coverage, meaning free access to health care for the entire population – in theory, at least.

“On paper, the SUS is a perfect system. But in reality, we have a lot of problems,” said Fred Nicacio, an emergency room physician in the southeastern city of Bauro.

“We need more hospital beds, staff and a wider range of medicines,” he told AFP.

Several of his colleagues have been infected with the virus, taking them out of commission for two weeks – sometimes without being replaced.

“The healthcare professionals on the front line are demotivated, underpaid and feel undervalued,” he said.

He also noted that systemic corruption is another major problem.

“It stretches all the way from political leaders embezzling funds for supplies to patients pretending to be sick so they can get a doctor’s note for work,” he said.

Brazil has been rocked by numerous scandals related to the pandemic, including over-billing for emergency ventilator purchases and field hospitals that were budgeted for but never built.


But corruption alone, though a “serious problem,” does not explain the cruel lack of resources for the public health system, said Guilherme Werneck, vice president of the Brazilian Collective Health Association (ABRASCO).

“The constitution says the state has a duty to guarantee access to healthcare, but funding for the SUS is extremely, chronically insufficient,” he said.

Doctors treat a patient infected with COVID-19, which has pushed the Brazilian healthcare system to the brink, at the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital de Clinicas, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on Apr 15, 2020.

A 2019 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found Brazil was among the countries making the least public investment in healthcare, with per capita spending 30 per cent below the average for developed and emerging countries.

Brazil spends just four per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on public health, less than half the level in countries such as Germany, France and Britain.

“Since the SUS was created 30 years ago, health has never been a strategic priority on the national agenda,” said Luciana Dias Lima, a researcher at leading public health institute Fiocruz.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration “is not engaged enough” in coordinating the public health services, she said.


Paradoxically, even as the federal government faces accusations of under-funding the public health system, it indirectly finances the private health system via tax breaks for those who can afford private health insurance.

“No other country with a universal healthcare system funds the private sector like that,” said Lima.

“That money could be spent on financing the SUS instead,” said Werneck, who has a doctorate in public health and epidemiology from Harvard.

More than 70 per cent of Brazil’s 212 million people depend exclusively on the SUS.

Its track record has not been good during the pandemic: the rate of recovery for COVID-19 patients hospitalised in the private system is 50 per cent higher than for those in the public system.

“The pandemic has deepened inequality: the poorest are most exposed, because they often live in inadequate sanitation conditions, have more chronic illnesses and have more problems getting a hospital bed,” said Werneck.

“If the SUS were better-funded, the response to COVID-19 would have been much better,” he added.

“But if the public system didn’t exist, the tragedy would have been even bigger.”

Z24 News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Next Post

MLB Cardinals expect more COVID-19 cases after latest tests: Report

Sun Aug 2 , 2020
NEW YORK: The St Louis Cardinals, already facing multiple COVID-19 cases that wiped out their weekend Major League Baseball games, expect more positive results from testing on Sunday (Aug 2), ESPN reported. The Cardinals said in a statement they do not expect an update on test results before Monday and […]


Social menu is not set. You need to create menu and assign it to Social Menu on Menu Settings.