Despite the crisis posed by the Zika virus, Brazil’s coup-imposed health minister wants to roll back health care and bring the church into abortion debates.
Promises from Brazil’s Senate-imposed President Michel Temer not to axe successful social programs seems increasingly dubious as the new health ministry toys with the idea of scaling back the cornerstone universal health care system, one of the founding social programs put in place in the early years of Brazil’s return to democracy, local media reported on Tuesday.
Coup-imposed Health Minister Ricardo Barros, a member of Temer’s entirely white male cabinet, said that the size of Brazil’s highly popular public health program, known as SUS, must be reviewed, despite the ongoing public health challenges posed by the Zika outbreak.
Barros claimed that the government may not be able to continue to live up to constitutionally-guaranteed rights like universal access to health care and suggested that the program may go on the chopping block in the name of austerity, the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo reported.
“There’s no use fighting for rights that cannot be delivered by the state,” Barros told Folha, advocating austerity with reference to cut seen in Greece. “We have to reach the point of balance between what the state is able to supply and what the citizen is entitled to receive.”
While the nature of potential cuts remain unclear, what’s certain is that the new health ministry will definitely not allocate increased resources to healthcare. “Do not count on more money,” Barros said of public health plans on Monday during a visit at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, Jornal do Brasil reported.
SUS, launched in 1990 after the 1988 Constitution of the newly-democratic government enshrined the human right to health, predates suspended President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party by more than a decade.
The installment of Temer’s government has raised concerns that popular social programs championed by Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be rolled back, but the potential assault on universal health — a central policy over more than 25 years under both left- and right-wing governments —threatens an even deeper attack on Brazilian democracy and human rights.
Alex Cuadros, author of the forthcoming book Brazillionaires, pointed out on his Twitter account that the move will be highly controversial. “If anyone had run for president saying he was going to shrink Brazil’s public health system, there’s no chance in hell that he would’ve won,” he wrote.
What’s more, the new minister’s closest supporters include business people with interests in privatized healthcare. According to a report by the Brazilian weekly Epoca, Barros’ largest single campaign donor in his successful 2014 run for Congress was a private healthcare associate Elon Gomes de Almeida, president of the Brazilian health insurance company Alliance Group.
Aside from proposing cutbacks to public health, Barros argued in an interview with Diario de Pernambuco that the church should be involved in debates on abortion access in the country.
Abortion in Brazil is legal in cases of rape or pregnancies that put a woman’s life at risk. But the recent outbreak of the Zika virus and suspected link between the disease and the birth defect microcephaly has resparked the debate on reproductive health in the country. In a recent interview with The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, Lula argued that abortion should be treated as a public health issue giving women the right to choose.
Temer and his new cabinet were installed last week after a Senate vote suspended Rousseff for 180 days to make her face an impeachment trial over accusations of budget manipulations.