[Marxism] Minister admits to racism in Brazil's health system

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 14 09:14:58 MST 2006

(Wouldn't it be wonderful if we in the United States
had a health minister who was as forthright as this?)

Minister admits to racism in Brazil's health system
Mario Osava | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil	
14 November 2006 09:27

>From Inter Press Service (IPS)


Brazil's Minister of Health, Agenor Álvares, has admitted that the
public health system is imbued with racism, stirring up more
controversy over policies for specific treatment plans targeting
Brazilians of African descent.

There are clear signs of discriminatory practices, one possible
factor in the higher incidence among Afro-descendants of a number of
illnesses, the minister said at a seminar on the special policies two
weeks ago in Rio de Janeiro.

There have been similar critical responses to other programmes
designed to correct social inequalities in Brazil. Some say that
poverty, not ethnic origin, is the reason that health indicators are
worse among black people, while others argue that Brazil's racial mix
has eliminated genetic differences.

Recognition of different needs and of racism by the Ministry of
Health is a "victory" for a 15-year struggle to promote "a different
view" of prevention and treatment of the illnesses affecting the
black population, said Fátima Oliveira, a black doctor who was
executive secretary of the Feminist Health Network for four years,
until May.

Ministry of Health statistics document a higher proportion of
mortality and morbidity among black people from Aids, tuberculosis,
leprosy, and uterine and prostate cancer, as well as a higher
maternal mortality rate.

According to official figures, black people on average live five
years less than white people in Brazil, who have a life expectancy of
71 years.

The illnesses mentioned "are not exclusive to or typical of black
people", but their higher incidence indicates that the black
population faces negative social conditions that increase their
morbidity, and that they do not get adequate treatment from medical
services, Oliveira said.

There is also sickle-cell anaemia, of African origin, which is
directly linked with genetics, she emphasised, as well as the known
predisposition of black people to high blood pressure, which may be
one of the factors that determine their higher maternal mortality
rate. That is why it is a serious fault if the public health prenatal
service fails to measure blood pressure regularly in pregnant black
women, she said.

Education and training

"Differential health care for black people requires education and
training for health professionals so that they understand the need
for a different approach, as well as for overcoming their
prejudices," said Oliveira, whose book Health of the Black Population
in Brazil arose out of a study carried out for the Pan American
Health Organisation in 2001.

The black movement has named October 27 the Day of National
Mobilisation for the Health of the Black Population, in order to
protest the inequality they experience at the hands of the Unified
Health System, which is supposed to offer services on an equal and
universal basis.

In the southern city of São Paulo, the movement is celebrating
another victory. The second Municipal Conference on the Health of the
Black Population ended on Friday, establishing guidelines and actions
to correct inequalities in health.

In order to promote policies that address the specific needs of this
population, the mayor's office created the Special Coordination for
Black People's Affairs (Cone), covering health, education and

"Yes, there is racism in the health system, because black people face
prejudice, or inadequately trained staff, who do not deliver
differential care and are unfamiliar with the specific health
problems faced by blacks," said João Carlos Benicio, technical
adviser to Cone.

Afro-descendants make up one-third of São Paulo's population of
11-million people. The vast majority of black and mixed-race people
are poor, and the "colour stigma" means they suffer from double
discrimination, Benicio said.

The general opinion among Brazilians that racism does not exist in
this country of 187-million people "prevents serious discussion of
the subject" and is an obstacle to adopting policies to correct
inequalities, such as quotas for black people at universities, he

Making black people "invisible" is characteristic of Brazilian
racism, he said. That is why the debate about the need for
differential health care has been going on for nearly 10 years in
this country, in spite of the fact that the black movement has
demanded it for three decades, he added.

The lack of proper training of public health service personnel is in
breach of regulations and recommendations of the World Health
Organisation, and the health system has even been left without
medicines for sickle-cell anaemia, the Cone adviser said. -- IPS

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