The Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA) expresses deep concern regarding President Jair Bolsonaro’s latest changes in the Ministry of Health and regarding his active support for a demonstration in favor of a military coup d’état that was held on Sunday (April 19th) before the Army headquarters in Brasilia. As usual, after being criticized, Bolsonaro tried to walk back in his position and reaffirmed that the Supreme Court and the Congress must remain open. ABIA joins the flood of critics against the event, remains vigilant and stands in defense of democracy in Brazil.
In regard to the COVID-19 response, however, Mr. Bolsonaro not only sustained his defense of quickly reopening the economy but also announced this Monday (April 20th) that quarantine should end this week. Although his new minister of Health, Nelson Teich, has publicly stated being in favor of social isolation, in his first address to the nation he declared himself totally aligned with Mr. Bolsonaro’s disastrous behavior in the response to the pandemic.
With such discourse, Teich has also tied himself to the sectarian mindset, since President Bolsonaro does not respect the opinion of the majority of the population, but instead is authoritarian and highly unethical. Besides that, the President has been clever in fueling ignorance and confusion as well as in politicizing a serious health problem that is affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide.
For us in ABIA, the position of the new Minister of Health and the latest remarks by Mr. Bolsonaro seriously endanger the health of the Brazilian population. The change of leadership in the Ministry of Health did not provide the answers to the many pivotal questions facing the country: what is the stance of the new Minister in the response to the worst pandemic in history? Will the new Minister defend social isolation or will he back easing it, as advocated by the President? Will the Executive Branch adopt a single message in facing COVID-19? What is this message?
It also worries us new Minister’s inexperience in public management, his lack of knowledge on the country’s Unified Health System (better known by the acronym SUS) and his longtime record in the private health sector. As described in his professional curriculum, Teich is an oncologist, owner of a private oncological clinic in Rio de Janeiro and has never held public office.
The new Health Minister’s recent defense of mass testing to respond to the new coronavirus pandemic immediately caught our attention. What principles will the mass testing that he proposes rely on? The response is vital to understand the parameters of the mass testing policy. Several ongoing campaigns in Brazil, including #Testeparatodxs, led by ABIA and other civil society organizations, are pushing for offering broad access to tests in a context that guarantees human rights.
We underline that the health sector collapse was already in sight. The new coronavirus pandemic arrived in Brazil after systematic attacks against the Unified Health System, some of them carried out during the tenure of the just-fired Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, such as the administrative downgrading of the AIDS Department.
The response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic today is even more threatened by the lack of clarity of how diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, cancer, among others, will be handled by the SUS in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency. The risks of an overloaded SUS put in danger integrality of the public health system, while labeling certain diseases as priorities, even if on an emergency basis, harms the universal right to health of all Brazilian citizens. The new Minister is in charge of the task of running SUS and solving these dilemmas in a system when we still don’t even know if he has the capacity to lead it.
To our surprise, in supporting a demonstration in favor of a military coup, Mr. Bolsonaro has already ordered top military officials to oversee the Ministry of Health’s new management. What does this mean? What is the message that the Presidency is sending to Brazilian society? The militarization of the epidemic response, as history has shown us, has put in risk or violated human rights, especially of the most vulnerable people. We need to remember that SUS is relying on decentralization, democratic participation, social control and intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobilization and therefore does not fit in a military atmosphere. Recently, ABIA publicly stated that “the world needs neither a war against COVID-19 nor warlike representations, but rather to relearn how to follow the path of solidarity”.
We must repeat: Brazil does not need of a warlike logic. We need solidarity.
Rio de Janeiro, April 20th
Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association