Thursday, February 10, 2011

What the United States can learn from Brazil

Don’t get me wrong.  There is WAY MORE that the United States can learn from humble Brazil than what I’m about to note.  But let’s just name a couple things.

According to the Brazilian Health Ministry, an estimated 33 million people, or 17 percent of Brazil's population suffer from hypertension and some 7.5 million suffer from diabetes.

If you were a concerned politician and you knew that about 34% of the deaths in your country each year were caused by hypertension- and diabetes-related complications, would you pick your nose up out of the trough long enough to consider a remedy?

Lucky for us we have a socialist-minded president who gets it that helping people AVOID these conditions will save lives and save a gazillion in health care expenses.

As such, Brazil’s new president Dilma announced recently that the government will now provide free hypertension and diabetes medication though the “Popular Pharmacy” program.

The diabetes medication was already available at nearly free prices, but this extends the wellness program even further.

As a further note (and one I extend to my policy maker friends in the US) I will mention that in the case of poor people with cancer, the government also offers a helping hand.

My mother in law is a breast cancer survivor.  When she completed her treatment she was placed on a drug called Tamoxifen, which is designed to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.  It is state of the art treatment, and it is expensive.  She must take this drug for five years.

Well, my mother in law could not afford the R$500+ needed per month to buy this drug, so she went to the city government and said: “Look, I’m a poor old woman.  I’m retired.  How am I going to afford this drug?  Give me a break.”  And guess what?  The government said “OK, we understand.  We will provide the drug to you for free.”

And so my mother in law receives the drug at no cost to her and continues to live a robust life – and it is worth noting that she did not have to sell her house and all her family’s assets in the process.

Take a note United States.  If a poor country like Brazil can do this for its people, so can you.


Gil and Ray said...


Thanks for sharing, this is great news!
I know for a fact that if someone needs an organ transplant, any organ, cornea, lung, heart, kidney, the Brazilian government picks up the tab and takes care of the patient for life because the person that has a transplant needs expensive medication for life.
A lung transplant for example costs around half a million Reais and it is all paid by the government.
I think Brazil is starting to look no so poor anymore :)


SN said...

I think that I might have to disagree. I in know way believe that free medication to patients with hypertension or type 2 diabetes is effective prevention. Both of the governments need to realize that throwing free stuff around isn't educating anyone. Nor is it helping those who can do something to get better.

Better idea- Free medication when test results show improvement. Either by just complying with taking the medication, improving diet, losing weight, or even taking a self help course about the situation.

I really am for the movement of people stepping up and being active in their role of health instead of expecting a doctor to magically fix something. The patient needs to work too and a lot of people just don't want to.

I think it's great about expensive cancer treatment being provided. Consider me on board with this :) That needs to be fixed asap. Those pricing are ridiculous.

Just my little two cents. Education about health.


Jim said...

I hear you Sara. I probably should have said the government program helps people to MANAGE these conditions, not avoid them.

Toward education, I enjoy seeing the PSA television commercials that promote healthy cooking/eating, and the mini story lines in novelas that are not so subtle encouragements for people to live healthier lives.

Rachel recently posted about the outdoor, free fitness resources for seniors in Rio. That's another good example of government using its unique position to keep people out of the hospital.

Ray - Brazil is becoming that country of the future...

Gil and Ray said...


You make a great point!
My father was spending a small fortune every month on high blood pressure medication, his doctor convinced him that if he lost weight he would be able to control his blood pressure.
He started using the Herbalife healthy meal replacement diet and it worked, he lost 60 pounds, completly controled his high blood pressure and was able to drop 5 different medication he used to take on a regular basis.
Now he talked his mother, my grandmother to do the same thing, she also was able to stop her high blood pressure medication and two other meds that she used to take on a regular basis.
My father now is a Herbalife FAN, he swears by it, he is getting a lot of people using it.
Good point!


Yes, there is so much exciting stuff going on in Brazil and I can't wait to get back and be a part of it again...I feel like I am missing out :(

SN said...

Jim- I agree Brazil is on the right track. I would love for the US to provide fitness programs to the elderly. Not only for the fitness part of it but the mental health aspect can be amazing! I was worried that I was being negative but that wasn't my goal at all :) I am so glad you got what I was trying to say!! Great post though!

Ray- What an amazing story. I am so proud of your father and what he is doing for himself! Now if the US would have helped him cover the workout cost to help him reach his goal it would have been even more amazing!


The Reader said...

Jim, I think you are so right on this. I'm an odd ball among my ultra-conservative friends in that I strongly support "socialized medicine" in the US. I hope it catches on. Free/low cost drugs for these long term problems (hypertension, diabetes, etc) is a great idea -- especially in cases that can't be managed by diet or weight loss (not all can be).

Ditto the cancer drugs, etc. The US definitely has a lot to learn on this front.

Nina said...

I think Brazil is great for doing this. I worked in case management and social work for over a decade in the US. While you see many people consuming too many medications on medicaid or other government programs. There just as many on programs, who cant get the medications they need to live. Being that the U.S. is state to state and city to city ran (thus different situation on medication or medicaid). The problem in the U.S. is different as of right now from Brazil.

Doctors in the states recieve payoffs, gifts and other presents to push medications on people by drug companies. So few doctors do preventive care or provide education to get you off the medication. And if you have a complex problem its not easy to find the information.

Brazilian doctors will people send to a nutritionalist or help you with losing weight. They do the preventive care. My doctor gives me vitamins and teas a lot of times. I have had a Brazilian doctor refuse to give me pain medicine and gave me a stomach massage in stead. More like a preassure point thing but it relieved my pain.

Here in Brazil people have a pretty complex situation. capitalism is here. But many people in a lot of areas are still trying to live off the land. This is a difficult place to be. These people do not usually make money. They do a lot of off the market trading. Such as I will give a pig for ten chickens. They simple cant afford these expensive medications.

Chris said...

The problem with "free" anything is that it isn't really "free". Someone has to pay for it, usually in the form of higher taxes. Like Sara said, as long as the patient is following the planned course of action which includes taking the meds on schedule, modifying diet and increasing exercise then I'm all for helping out that person as much as possible so their situation can improve. But if they just take the "free" meds, but go back to eating crap, not getting off the sofa all day because they're watching novellas, and smoking 2 packs a day, well.... what can you do? Rewarding bad or ignorant behavior is a loss for taxpayers. (And before people assume anything, I'll make it clear... I'm not one to mix politics with friends. I'm neither a warmongering Republican, nor a Socialist Democrat. I'm a Libertarian.)

Anonymous said...

While I agree that nothing is for free and there should be a control, I think choosing to offer that to the population says a lot about a country and Brazil chose life. In the US no one wants to pay taxes but how many actually save the money? Look the state of the health care in the South. In Arizona, they no longer cover transplants ( This is from a state that used the scare tactic of the death panel during the healthcare reform debate and is still fighting it. In addition, all they need to cover is approximately $2,000,000. The governor and legislators refuse to fund it alleging the 1.5 billion budget deficit. In the meanwhile, they spend millions fight the federal government. Anyway, eacht country with its problem but I'm happy that Latin America, especially Brazil is choosing life.

Stephanie said...

Great post Jim, and great information to know. I've wondered, as I get older, what the reality will be here in connection to medical care and the costs associated with it. Sure we have insurance now, but when my husband retires (not for 20 more years), I am really unclear as to how that will ultimately play out and also, since I am not a Brasilian citizen, just a permanent resident, will I be eligible for the same care?