Brazil plans to double number of Cuban doctors

CUBA STANDARD — Brazil will boost the number of Cuban doctors contracted under the Mais Médicos program to 11,400, Cuban and Brazilian officials announced.

The increase from currently 5,400 doctors, first reported by BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg, is a welcome boost to Cuba’s hard-currency income just as the island is suffering tightening cash flow again. At the current rate of $4,000 a month Brazil agreed to pay Cuba, the cash influx from Mais Médicos will reach $528 million a year.

On Jan. 28, Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda and his Brazilian peer Alexander Rocha Santos Padilla announced in Havana that by March, Brazil will contract an additional 6,000 Cuban doctors, for a total of 11,400. In a ceremony on Monday in Havana, the two health ministers sent 2,000 doctors on their way to Brazil, raising the total to 7,430.

Pre-empting criticism among medical associations in Brazil, Rocha said that the Cuban doctors “dedication and sacrifice have been recognized by the Brazilian people,” and Morales emphasized the Cuban doctors’ experience, saying that 69.7 percent of those serving in Brazil have more than 15 years’ experience, all have served abroad at least once, and 31.9 percent has been deployed abroad more than once.

The moves came as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is visiting Cuba to participate in the summit of the CELAC bloc of Latin American nations and participate in the opening of Phase 1 of a new container port at Mariel, which has been largely funded by Brazil.

The Brazilian Mais Médicos announcement comes earlier than anticipated. In December, Rousseff said that her government would re-evaluate the number of doctors needed under the program in March.

“If necessary,” the number of foreign doctors hired under the program started in September may be increased again, Rousseff said in December; Brazilian officials said they hoped to double Mais Médicos from the current total of 6,500 to 13,000 doctors. The program, aiming at improving health services in under-served rural and poor urban areas, is eminently popular and has helped boost Rousseff’s political standing, after massive street protests swept the country in summer.

The Cuban doctors are supposed to fill gaps in Brazil’s public healthcare system until the country’s medical schools produce enough Brazilian doctors fit and willing to serve in areas of poverty.

Currently 5,400 of the currently 6,500 doctors in the program are contracted under an agreement between Brazil, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Cuban government. Brazil has been struggling to find enough Brazilian doctors and foreign doctors contracted on an individual base.

Revenues for Cuba at the current staffing level are estimated at $250 million per year.

In November, Brazil added 3,000 Cuban doctors to the 2,400 Cuban doctors already in the country since September. The current total of 5,400 exceeds the previously announced number by 1,400.

The boost by Brazil is a major breakthrough for Cuban efforts to diversify its for-pay medical service exports. While service exports a decade ago surpassed tourism as Cuba’s largest hard-currency generator, by far most of the healthcare exports are under agreements with oil-rich Venezuela. More than 20,000 medical personnel from Cuba work in Venezuela, or in third countries under programs funded by Venezuela.

Cuban has also expanded medical service programs in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Portugal and Algeria. Also, Norway and Brazil have funded medical relief efforts involving Cuban doctors in Haiti.

Farewell ceremony for 2,000 doctors in Havana Jan. 27. Photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma
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