Brazilian government wants to combat racism in health services rendered to Afro-Brazilians through its national health care system

black women Brazil
Minister of Health Alexandre Padilha (far right) and Minister of Racial Equality Luiza Bairros (3rd from left) 

Government held an event in Brasília to define health policies for blacks

The federal government wants to combat ethno-racial discrimination in services and care offered by the Sistema Único de Saúde (Unified Health System or SUS) (1). To accomplish this, the Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality (Seppir) met with about 100 managers in health and social movement representatives to discuss the topic in the Forum Confronting Institutional Racism to Promote Comprehensive Health of the Black Population in SUS.

The meeting formulated strategies guided by ethno-racial perspective and the identification of areas of action for realization of the National Comprehensive Health of the Black Population, approved in 2006 by the Conselho Nacional de Saúde (National Health Council).

In an interview with Agência Brasil, Minister Luiza Bairros stressed that the forum seeks to establish mechanisms to establish commitments and responsibilities of state and local governments in the medical treatment the black population.

“These are the ones who provide the service end and they must be prepared to serve black customers who require special care. Blacks are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which lead to several complications. In pregnant black women have the highest maternal mortality rate because of problems in childbirth due to hypertension,” said the minister.

The analysis of data from the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD/IBGE) shows that the black population represents 67% of the public served by SUS. The minister said that among the points of the final document prepared by the forum is building a partnership between Seppir and the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to include contents of the black population in the curriculum of public universities of medicine.

“Our idea is to create a generation of professionals prepared to deal with the reality of the Brazilian population. Surveys show a different treatment for blacks. Appointments tend to have a shorter time length and often the doctor doesn’t even touch the patient to make a more detailed examination,” Luiza said.

For example, the October 27th, 2006 edition of the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper reported this:

“There are ‘cristalized practices’ of discrimination and racism in health care servies. ‘Various reports show, for example, that black women are not touched in exams. We have evidence that, in a line of emergency, services to blacks are postponed in relation to whites,’ affirms the coordinator of the Technical Committee of Health of the Black Population of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Ana Maria Costa.”

In a study by Stella R. Taquette, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, witnesses in hospitals were quoted as saying:

“…the doctor holds back from tending to you, what type of doctor?: ‘Damn this black here, this black woman, uh, I’m not going to tend to her….’…I’ve seen this in the hospital.”

“Many times the doctors themselves have disgust of touching a black person. They have prejudice, prejudice against blacks.”

“They treat you like a beast. The same as a beast…”

Indeed, this type of racism in services provided by Brazil’s national health system, SUS, was confirmed in 2006 by Agenor Álvares, Brazil’s Minister of Health. Another point highlighted by Bairros is the increasing rate of infection of HIV in young black women.

“Women still have difficulty negotiating condom use and also need to consider the lack of access to health services available where much of the black population lives,” said the minister.

To see further details on the topic of race, health, medical treatment and how organizations and the medical industry are addressing these issues, see this report of a debate featuring Dr. Isabel Cruz, Ph.D of Nursing and coordinator of the Center of Studies on the Health of the Black Population and Dr. Jurema Werneck, coordinator  of the black women’s organization Crioula and the National Council of Health. For many years, both of these women have been on the forefront of discussions and debates on health care and issues that specifically affect Brazil’s black population.

Health of the Black Population in Debate


1.The Sistema Único de Saúde (or Unified Health System) is Brazil’s publicly funded health care system. SUS was created after the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, which assured that health care is a “right of all and an obligation of the State”.

Source: Agência Brasil, Lopes, Fernanda. “Enfrentamento do Racismo Institucional e Promoção da Saúde da População Negra”. Núcleo de Estudos da Saúde do Adolescente da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, 2008

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Brazilian government wants to combat racism in health services rendered to Afro-Brazilians through its national health care system

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. I am a physical rehabilitation/hand therapist in the U.S. interested in visiting. I met a brancoBrazilian here in the States at a hand therapy conference and she mentioned they didn’t have the resources to get the materials we have here. Her husband is American. Where does the Bahian and larger Afro Brazilian community go for carpal tunnel, arthritis, fracture care, etc? Thank you

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