Panel focuses on healthcare in Brazil as country’s COVID-19 toll rises

Brazil now has the second-highest number of cases of COVID-19 in the world—behind only the U.S.—and the highest number of new deaths. Speakers on a recent virtual panel on healthcare in Brazil criticized the federal response under President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the risk of the virus and criticized state and municipal shutdowns.

The panel was part of the 6th annual student-organized Brazil Conference at Harvard & MIT, held virtually on June 3, 2020. Panelists included former Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was fired by Bolsonaro in April over disagreements regarding social distancing measures and the use of chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, and Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The speakers discussed lessons learned from the free Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS), its collaborations with private healthcare providers, and its resilience amid underfunding and the COVID-19 pandemic. Brazil is the only country with a population of over 100,000,000 people to offer free healthcare.

The SUS system, which serves more than 75% of the Brazilian population, has been essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, said moderator Fernando Bruno, MPH ’20.

Castro said that with SUS, the country had the structure in place for an effective response to the pandemic. But due to the lack of federal leadership, thousands of state and local governments were left to address the virus on their own.

Read coverage in Explica: Mandetta ironic chloroquine recommendation: “Laymen”