Exodus of Cuban Doctors From Brazil Threatens to Exacerbate Its Health Care Woes

Exodus of Cuban Doctors From Brazil Threatens to Exacerbate Its Health Care Woes
Cuban doctors assemble to meet Cuba’s president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, after landing in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 23, 2018 (AP photo by Desmond Boylan).

The government of Cuba canceled a medical cooperation agreement with Brazil and withdrew thousands of its doctors from the country late last year after Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, criticized the Cuban government for taking most of the doctors’ salaries and not allowing their families to accompany them to Brazil. The exodus of Cuban doctors is expected to severely impair health care services for millions of poor Brazilians who depended on them. In an email interview with WPR, Albert Ko, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health who has conducted research in Brazil, discusses the withdrawal’s other likely implications, both for Cuba’s medical diplomacy initiatives and for Brazil’s marginalized communities.

World Politics Review: For how long have Cuban medical professionals been working in Brazil, and how much damage does the termination of this program do to Havana’s medical diplomacy?

Albert Ko: Brazil and Cuba have had agreements since the early 2000s, established during the presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to bring thousands of Cuban medical professionals to Brazil to provide health care for mostly rural and underserved populations. These agreements were incorporated into the Mais Medicos, or More Doctors, program when it was launched in 2013 under President Dilma Rousseff, with the goal of remedying a shortage of health care professionals in remote parts of the country. Until last November, Cuban doctors accounted for more than 8,000 of the 18,000 physicians in the program and, as part of Brazil’s universal health care system, provided basic medical services for 30 million people living in the most impoverished and marginalized regions.

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