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Fresh attacks on the Right to Health in Brazil

15 March 2017
SAMU ambulances, Brazil
At a meeting of the Health Committee of the São Paulo Municipal Chamber held at the end of February, workers at the mobile emergency care service (SAMU) criticised the mayor, João Doria (PSDB), for his plan to transfer care to private “social organisations”.

The SAMU stations that are scattered across the city will be closed down and the personnel will be redeployed to Basic Health Units (UBSs) and Emergency Care Units (UPAs) and other municipal installations.

This is in effect a step forward in the state’s aim of privatising this public service that has served as a health helpline for millions of people in the mega-city. Boldened by the shocking national legislation passed in December to put caps on public funding of education and health services, São Paulo mayor, João Doria, has been vociferous in pursuing his goal to privatise SAMU as well as closing national health service (SUS) pharmacies.

The health committee meeting was an opportunity for workers and members of the communities to express their displeasure at these fresh attacks on the right to health. But, the health secretary, Wilson Pollara, who was to represent the government of São Paulo at the meeting, chose not to attend, unable to defend his indefensible reasons for the steps being taken.

One health service worker, Gláucia Fernandes dos Santos, said that Doria claims the “reform” will double the number of vehicles available. "He says the service will improve, which is not true. It will only improve when there is less overload on hospitals and the emergency services. If this does not happen, who is going to receive and care for the people transported by SAMU?” she asked.

Gláucia said that the proposal demoralises teams that are already working under great stress, with inadequate resources and infrastructure. "The federal government said it would provide resources but they never arrived. What is going on?” she asked.

Eduardo Suplicy (Workers’ Party - PT) is against the transfer of management of SAMU to social organisations and is calling on people to sign the petition: “Say No to Privatisation and the Changes to SAMU in São Paulo”.

In addition to SAMU workers, members of social movements, members of the Municipal Health Council, other health service employees and trade union leaders attended the meeting to hold Wilson Pollara, to account, and were disappointed by his absence.

The assistant secretary, Maria da Glória Zenha Wieliczka who came in his place did not answer any of the questions put to her. She utilised the stratagem of a lengthy financial report of the last four months, choosing to ignore the extensive list of criticisms and questions presented by people who had registered their wish to speak. She eventually spent just ten minutes to address some of the burning questions raised. After many of those present insisted, however, a new meeting was scheduled for 10 March.

The assistant secretary fielded questions on controversial programmes implemented under the João Doria (PSDB) administration, including the closure of pharmacies at the UBS; the “partnership” with pharmaceutical laboratories for the “donation” of medicines that are about to reach their use-by date in exchange for fiscal benefits; problems obtaining medical appointments under the Corujão programme; and the outsourcing of SAMU.

With support from those present at the meeting, councillors Juliana Cardoso (PT) and Samia Bonfim (Psol) reiterated the need for public hearings to discuss the proposal for commercial pharmacies to distribute medicines and the partnership for the so-called donation of medicines. The Health Committee turned down an official request from Juliana earlier in February.

The situation in Brazil now is quite dire for fundamental rights and in particular the right to health. But Brazilian affiliates of PSI will not be cowered. We will stand with the masses, and do our best to give leadership for reclaiming access to quality public health.

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