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12/02/13 - Oman Daily Observer - A Cuban boost for Rousseff 

By Anthony Boadle 

They were heckled and called slaves of a communist
state when they first landed, but in the poorest corners of Brazil the
arrival of 5,400 Cuban doctors is being welcomed as a godsend. The
programme to fill gaps in the national health system with foreign doctors,
mainly from Cuba, could become a big vote-winner for President Dilma
Rousseff as she eyes a second term in next year's election despite fierce
opposition from Brazil's medical class. The move to tap Cuba's
doctors-for-export programme begun by former leader Fidel Castro became a
priority for Rousseff after massive protests against corruption and shoddy
public transport, education and healthcare services rocked Brazil in June.
Within weeks, she launched "Mais Médicos", or "More Doctors", a programme
to hire foreign physicians. Brasilia signed a three-year contract to bring
thousands of Cuban doctors to work in poor and remote areas where Brazilian
physicians prefer not to practice.

Under an agreement that will earn cash-strapped Cuba some $225 million a
year, Cuban doctors have been deployed to health centres in the slums of
Brazilian cities and villages across the drought-stricken Northeast that
had no resident doctors. Bahia state is reopening rural health centres that
were unstaffed. Inhabitants of Jiquitaia, a hamlet surrounded by cacti,
goats and famished cattle in Bahia's interior, no longer have to travel 46
kms on a dirt road to see a physician. "This is a gift of God," said farm
worker Deusdete Bispo Pereira after he was seen for chest pains by Dania
Alvero, a doctor from Santa Clara, Cuba. "Everyone is happy she is here.
We're afraid she will be sent away," he said. Elderly residents and
pregnant women crowded into the family health centre waiting for a check up
with Alvero, who like many Cuban doctors is an expert in preventive
medicine. "There are illnesses here that I had only read about in books,
like leprosy, which no longer exists in Cuba," she said mixing Spanish and
Portuguese words.

Cuba has sent doctors abroad for decades to help developing countries for
ideological reasons, revolutionary foot soldiers first sent out by Fidel
Castro onto a Cold War chessboard, from Algeria and Ethiopia to Angola and
Nicaragua. Plunged into economic crisis after the Soviet Union collapsed,
Castro devised a doctors-for-oil scheme with the late Venezuelan leader
Hugo Chavez in 2000. The so-called Barrio Adentro plan, in which more than
30,000 Cubans work in healthcare in dirt-poor shantytowns ringing Caracas
and other cities, earned Chavez loads of political goodwill among the
Venezuelan populace and was paid for with preferential oil shipments to
Cuba. Even though most of the income goes to the Cuban government, Cuban
doctors are delighted to go abroad because they can earn much more than
they are paid at home, where doctors' salaries max out at the equivalent of
$50 a month.

"We don't get paid much, but we are not here for the money. We are here to
help our country, which is poor," said Lisset Brown, who works at a
neighbourhood health centre in Ceilandia, the largest slum ringing the
Brazilian capital of Brasilia. The arrival of 12 Cuban physicians has
relieved the overburdened Ceilandia hospital and improved the credibility
of the public health system, said Brazilian nurse Tania Ribeiro Mendonça.
"People see the government is doing something." Cuba has doctors to spare
today. According, to the World Bank, it has the world's highest number of
doctors in proportion to population: 6.7 per 1,000 people, compared to 1.8
in Brazil, though that ratio rises to 4 per 1,000 in cities where Brazilian
doctors prefer to work, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.  Brazilian
doctors initially tried to stop the arrival of foreign colleagues, which
they saw as an attempt to undermine their professional interests and
medical standards.

Opinion polls show that a vast majority of Brazilians favours hiring
foreigners when local doctors are unavailable, even though doubts remain
about the qualifications of the Cubans. One poll in November showed that
84.3 per cent of those surveyed back the Mais Médicos programme, though
only 66 per cent thought the foreign doctors were qualified to do the job.
"We are not opposed to foreign doctors working here. They can come from
Russia, England, Cuba or Bolivia but their degrees must be evaluated and
the government is not doing that," said Florentino Cardoso, head of the
Brazilian Medical Association. To allow foreign doctors to work in Brazil,
Rousseff rushed through legislation allowing them to practise for three
years without getting their degrees validated by local authorities, a
cumbersome process that can take years. The law, however, says they can
only work in basic healthcare services.

Having lost that battle, Brazilian doctors are now focusing their criticism
on what they call unfair treatment of their Cuban colleagues.  Unlike
doctors of other nationalities, the Cubans cannot bring their families to
Brazil, which opponents of the Cuban government say is to ensure that they
return home.


Original Source / Fuente Original: http://main.omanobserver.om/?p=35462


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