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Saturday, 24 August 2013 00:00

Minister announces import of 4,000 Cuban doctors

Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said on Thursday that the country will import thousands of Cuban doctors to work in areas where medical services and physicians are scarce.

The Health Ministry said that it had signed an agreement with the Pan-American Health Organisation to hire 4,000 Cuban doctors, who are expected to arrive by the end of the year.

The first 400 are scheduled to arrive within the next few days.

The government is bringing in Cuban doctors after failing to attract enough Brazilian and foreign physicians to its "more doctors" programme to send professionals to work in needy urban and rural areas for three years.

The government created the scheme following mass street demonstrations across Brazil in which protesters demanded better public services.

The effort has drawn the ire of Brazilian doctors' organisations, which say there are plenty of home-grown physicians to work in those areas if the government would provide better wages in public healthcare.

Government officials have repeatedly criticised Brazilian physicians for seeking to block the import of foreign doctors as elitists who only want to work in cities in private hospitals.

In July, the government proposed making medical students work in poor areas as part of their residencies, again drawing criticism from doctors.

The Health Ministry has said 3,500 cities and towns are taking part in the "more doctors" programme and have requested 15,000 physicians.

But so far just 1,300 have signed up. Of that total, 1,000 are Brazilian and 300 are either Brazilian who studied overseas or foreign doctors, mainly from Argentina, Spain and Portugal.

Foreign doctors in the programme will receive a monthly salary of £2,624.

In the case of the Cubans, the government will send their wages to Cuba's government through the Pan-American Health Organisation.

A Cuban Health Ministry official said last year that 38,868 Cuban medical workers, including 15,407 doctors, were working in 66 nations.

Some 30,000 work in Venezuela alone.

The export of medical services adds about £3.8 billion a year to Cuba's economy.

By contrast, tourism brought in £1.6bn in 2011.

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