Brazil is the largest country in South America with a population of over 211 million people. The country’s economy has improved greatly in the past few years and is considered an upper-middle-income economy by the World Bank, yet Brazil’s healthcare system still has a long way to go to provide equal care for its citizens.

8 Facts about Healthcare in Brazil

  1.  Free Healthcare – Since 1988, Brazil has provided free healthcare for all its citizens. This has improved the overall health and quality of life of the people in Brazil, decreasing the infant mortality rate from 27 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 12.8 per 1,000 live births in 2018. Life expectancy has also increased from 68.7 in 1996 to 75.7 in 2018.
  2. Low GDP on Health Spending – Total government spending on health increased from 7% to 8.3% between 2000 and 2014. Currently, Brazil has the lowest proportion of public spending on healthcare in Latin America and the Caribbean, but leaders in Brazil are working on increasing that number.
  3. Implementation of ‘More Doctors’ Program – Social inequality in different areas of Brazil serves as a barrier to healthcare for some residents, particularly those in rural areas in Northern Brazil. Moreover, there is a shortage of doctors and other health professionals in Northern Brazil. To fill these gaps in underserved areas, the government created the program More Doctors (Mais Médicos) in 2013 to bring in doctors from other countries, especially Cuba.
  4. Family Health Programme – A huge part of Brazil’s national health system is the Family Health Programme, which gives healthcare to 97 million Brazilians. The program employs more than 30,000 healthcare teams, and its main goal is to extend healthcare to the country’s most impoverished. Along with offering free healthcare services through the Family Health Program, Brazil’s healthcare system also offers hospital services like heart surgery, medical scans, free dental care and government subsidization of 90% of medications.
  5. Threat of Infectious Diseases – Political and economic crises serve as the biggest obstacles to good healthcare in Brazil. From 2014 to 2016, the percent of people in Brazil who were living in poverty increased from 20.4% to 23.5%. Moreover, 2.9 million people also had to give up private medical insurance during the same time period. Infectious disease outbreaks such as dengue, Zika virus and, most recently, COVID-19 increased in the past few years. Some infectious diseases that were perceived to be under control in Brazil had recorded outbreaks such as yellow fever in 2016 and 2018, which officials reported to have likely occurred from a lack of vaccinations in risk regions.
  6. Underfunded Healthcare – Healthcare in Brazil is significantly underfunded. Twelve percent of state governments’ budgets go toward healthcare, with 15% of city governments’ budgets following suit. Although 98% of city governments meet and even exceed that requirement, many state governments fail to do so each year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than half of state governments fail to allocate at least 12% of their budget towards healthcare.
  7. Private Sector Optimization – Much of the healthcare services in Brazil are based in the private sector, with Brazil having the second-biggest private health insurance market in the world. Investments keep the private healthcare sector afloat with more than half the funding originating from out-of-pocket investments, mainly from pharmacies. The private healthcare sector is based primarily on hospitalization and not primary care, so it is a medium to save the injured or the ill rather than provide preventive health measures.
  8. Technology in the Healthcare System – One of Brazil’s main priorities in regard to healthcare is incorporating technology into the healthcare system to extend the benefits of healthcare to poor and remote communities. Most primary care clinics do not have computers while some emergency hospitals lack computers. The Ministry of Health also wants to increase the use of smartphone healthcare apps and technology to improve access to healthcare services in certain communities.

Although Brazil’s healthcare system requires improvement in certain areas, such as the availability of technology and funding, it still serves as a model healthcare system for other countries in South America. With certain improvements, healthcare in Brazil has a promising future.

– Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr