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Waiting for medical assistance at a public medical center in Brazil

Waiting for medical assistance at a public medical center in Brazil

“Population disapproves of Brazil’s Health System” – No Pátio – 12 January 2012 (www.nopatio.com.br)


Our first healthcare need when we moved to Brazil was finding out the names of popular local medicines for common health problems: colds, fever, headaches, cuts and bruises, indigestion… I found the pharmacist at a drogaria or farmácia most helpful when seeking medicines for common ailments. In Fortaleza, we frequented Farmácia Pague Menos, the most popular drugstore chain.

When my sons first came down with a severe flu, I learned about the government-run children’s clinic, not far from my workplace. My spirits sank when I saw the crowd of parents with sick children spilling out of the entrances onto the courtyard. I feared that my sons would catch a deadly disease. Almost four hours later, when our turn came to see one of the doctors on duty, we were out within five minutes with prescriptions for medicine, dispensed in another section with another line. As a low-wage worker without health insurance coverage, I considered myself fortunate to have this free medical assistance for my sons.

The day I needed an eye examination for new eyeglasses, I went to the public medical center in downtown Fortaleza during my two-hour lunch break. It was located in a section I had never before ventured owing to the high risk of being swarmed and robbed by gangs of street children. When I saw the line filling the street and learned it was just for making an appointment, I desisted and returned to work.

A neighbor told me that Casa dos Relojoeiros, specialized retailers of optical products, offered free eye examinations for its customers buying eyeglasses. After my first visit, their excellent customer service earned my loyalty.

I discovered the Centro de Prevencão do Câncer Ginecológico do Ceará by chance while walking in the neighborhood and decided to go in and learn more. At the Information/Appointment window, I obtained an appointment for a cancer-prevention check-up for a date six months ahead. With the large number of people seeking healthcare, consultations and treatment, provided free of charge, required a waiting period of four or more hours.

While working at Melon Exporters,* I heard that Amil – now Brazil’s largest private healthcare company – had established a medical center in Fortaleza. With increased earnings, I was able to pay for a consultation-only plan for my two sons. This was an important step for me: less stress and less time off from work.

I was also able to afford a low-cost private dental care plan for myself and sons. The majority of the dentists were young and inexperienced; the facility cramped; and a two-hour consultation waiting time.

The income I earned at Ceará Importers* allowed me to obtain a comprehensive healthcare plan for me and my sons offered by one of Fortaleza’s major private hospitals. Our Plano de Saúde Hapvida also covered hospitalization, vision and dental care. It was a major achievement – peace of mind in the event of a serious health problem. Good health is a gift without a lifetime warranty.

Learn about Brazil’s Unified Health System (SUS), established in 1988, at Sistema Único de Saúde.


*Fictitious Name