Brazil: Defending the Unified Health System Means Defending Life!

By Nancy Galvão – Executive of the PSOL / SP and Executive Secretary of the CSP-Conlutas (LS / Unidos Pra Lutar)

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the inability of the capitalist system to respond to the health and social-economic challenge and to save lives. The world looks perplexed at scenes that seemed buried in history books: bodies piled up in hospitals, abandoned in different places or burned on public roads; coronavirus victims dying without artificial respirators; thousands of health workers infected and killed by the lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment); thousands of unemployed people wandering the streets without transportation to take them to their home cities; closed borders. The capitalist way of life tragically demonstrates that it holds the main responsiblity for the chaos that reaks havoc on the planet.

Guaranteeing Access to Free Public Health Care is a Civilized Human Right!

To soften the impact of the pandemic, capitalist governments were forced to adopt social measures opposed to those of the austerity plans applied around the world, such as allocating a large budget for public health. In countries like Ireland, private health care was nationalized to guarantee equity in patient care; governments will intervene in production to guarantee the manufacture of products to combat Covid-19, the centennial General Motors company was forced to change its production of cars for artificial respirators; and the Brazilian Department of Federal Revenue seized approximately 5 million professional masks, imported by a private company, in a Santa Catarina port.

The Unified Health System (SUS), property of the Brazilian people, has never been so acclaimed by the municipal, state and federal governments that have been dismantling it for decades, and revered by the bourgeois press, a defender of neoliberal measures. Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, a trusted man of private health care plans and Social Organizations, now wears the SUS jersey, but his resume ranges from fraud in public contests (6 million in the health department), to influence peddling and box 2. In the 2014 electoral campaign, he received a donation of 100,000 Reales from Amil. Mandetta, a fierce opponent of the Mais Médicos program, took over the Bolsonaro government’s Ministry of Health to further privatize the SUS and strengthen private health sevices, which is why he ended several primary health care programs and supported cuts in investments, which added more than 9,000 million Reales in the year of the pandemic.

San Pablo, Epicenter of the Pandemic, Hands Over the SUS to Private Companies

Governor Dória and Mayor Bruno Covas use their offices to dismantle the SUS and turn over loads of public money to private parties. Health care professionals and workers, with precarious contracts, low wages and violent moral harassment, also pay the price for this privatization disguised as a public-private partnership, which demonstrates a serious mistake in the face of the pandemic. Since Covid-19’s first confirmation on April 4, cases have only increased, even with the quarantine measures that began on March 24. Contagion among health care workers is also concerning: in the first week of April, more than 3,300 were removed under suspicion of Covid-19 infection, and in just three days, 10 deaths of health care workers were confirmed. Many more may pay with their lives for the lack of PPE. Even raincoats instead of proper atire were provided as “protection.” In an emotional statement, a nurse said, “I wear diapers to avoid going to the bathroom, because when we go, we have to change our mask and we don’t have enough.” These workers are exposed to contagion, are not tested and neither are their families and patients. Many had to buy their own PPE to try to protect themselves.

Among all health professionals, those most exposed, due to precarious working conditions and also to the complete lack of protection in contracts signed with private companies, are subcontracted workers who will not have any protection if they are infected by coronavirus. They are being recruited in the field hospitals of Anhembi and Pacaembu, managed by the São Paulo Association for the Development of Medicine – SPDM and the Albert Einstein Hospital, respectively. The cases of under-registration are increasing. Cejam, the social organization responsible for 37 health posts, is being investigated by the Public Ministry of SP for denouncing a procedure that favors under-registration. This OS would have ordered to notify the Ministry of Health only of suspected cases of health care workers.

Another problem is that there are not enough tests for the population, so only ICU patients are analyzed. In addition, the reactive agent, the raw material necessary for the Adolfo Lutz Institute to carry out the tests, is lacking, which means that there are thousands of suspected cases awaiting confirmation. And this wait has already caused, either due to inadequate storage or collection, the loss of thousands of samples that, in the case of patients who have already died, will be under-registered.

In the São Pablo Suburbs We are On Our Own

The pandemic has taught workers and the peripheral population a lot, because though it is true that the virus is not selective, the capitalist state is. It is enough to verify the distribution of ICU beds in municipal public hospitals, where 60% are concentrated in three sub-prefectures (Sé, Pinheiros and Vila Mariana) located in the center and in the noble areas, while in the suburbs, which includes 7 sub-prefectures (Aricanduva, Campo Limpo, Cidade Ademar, Parelheiros, Jaçanã, Perus and Lapa), where 20% of the population lives (2 million and 375 thousand people) has 0% of the beds.

This harsh reality led the community of Paraisópolis, a suburb on the southern outskirts of the capital, to organize community brigades. Each street leader is responsible for 50 houses and is tasked with verifying whether residents have Covid-19 symptoms, and the basic food necessities of each family. The residents’ association has also contracted three ambulances, two doctors and two nurses to provide comprehensive care to the community. In these times of pandemic, solidarity has awakened and the absence and selectivity of the capitalist state is also questioned. It is necessary to organize mutual aid committees, collect donations of food and cleaning materials, but it is also necessary to prepare the struggle for the government to not unload the economic crisis on the poor and working population of São Paulo and Brazil. We are on our own, now and after the Covid-19 pandemic passes.