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Brazzil - Health - August 2004

Brazil Vows Better Care to Blacks

Municipal and state administrators of the Brazilian Federal
Health System are gathering now in Brasília, Brazil's capital,
to discuss the health care given to blacks by the government.
To deal with Brazil's recognized racism, the Lula administration
has created the Secretariat for the Promotion of Social Equality.

Juliana Andrade


Picture Legally guaranteed equal and universal healthcare access has not assured blacks the same treatment given to whites in Brazil. This is the opinion of representatives of social organizations linked to the black movement. They are in Brasília attending the National Health Seminar on the Black Population.

Fernanda Lopes, a researcher, presented statistics that illustrate racial disparities in the health sector. One of her studies shows, for example, that the number of deaths related to pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum complications among women between 10 and 49 years of age is three times greater among blacks than whites, for lack of prenatal care.

In 2002, 8.9 percent of black women who gave birth in the Northern Region of Brazil received no prenatal care, as against 6.5 percent of their white counterparts. In the South and Southeast, this difference was even greater, double.

In the Northeast, 10.1 percent of black expectant mothers failed to receive prenatal care, while among whites this percentage was 6.9 percent. And in the Center-West the difference was 3.9 percent versus 1.8 percent.

Another fact revealed by the study is that while infant mortality was 21 percent greater among black children than white children in 1980, the difference jumped to 40 percent in 2000. According to the author of the study, the factors gender and income have contributed to worsening the situation.

The study, which compiles data from research conducted all over the country, was prepared for the National Health Foundation, with technical and financial assistance from the World Bank, government agencies responsible for the Program to Combat Institutional Racism in Brazil, and the British Ministry for International Development.

For the author of the study, it is essential that the race component be taken into account when defining priorities in terms of government measures, programs, and policies for the black population in the health area.

Racial Equality

The 1st National Seminar on the Health of the Black Population, which started August 18, in Brasília, "represents an excellent advance in terms of racial equality," declared the chief of staff of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Social Equality, Maria Inés Barbosa.

The event, in her view, is historic and will gather municipal and state administrators of the Federal Health System from all over Brazil, researchers, and representatives of civil society organizations.

The seminar, Barbosa said, represents an advance, "because it recognizes that we live in a racist country." She argued that the creation of the Secretariat itself attests to this.

"The State admits that we live in a racist country. And racism also has negative consequences for the health of the population."

Barbosa informed that blacks currently make up 50 percent of the Brazilian population and that early deaths constitute a conspicuous characteristic of the health of the black population.

"We have a higher child mortality rate, a greater risk of maternal death, and a higher incidence of premature black male deaths, due to violence, for example," she affirmed.

According to her, the seminar is part of a process that began at the 12th National Health Conference, held late last year. The Conference was also a landmark, "because the black population, the black movement, acted cohesively within the conference and succeeded in raising some issues concerning the health of the black population.

"The formulation of the National Health Plan, in which the government recognizes that there exists a difference when it comes to the health of the black population, was another stage in this process," she pointed out.

It was last November that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva placed a wreath of flowers on the monument honoring Zumbi dos Palmares and launched the National Policy to Promote Racial Equality, during commemorations of National Black Awareness Day, at Barriga Mountain, considered a landmark of liberty by black communities.

At that time, black actor Milton Gonçalves, who was presented with a copy of the decree creating the National Policy to Promote Racial Equality, said that he hopes the document favors race relations in Brazil.

"It is fundamental that our descendants be included in the processes of production and consumption, so they can offer more to the country." He added that some practical steps are basic for this, such as improvements in schools, health, the matter of political organization, and bringing Afro-Brazilians into the centers of decision-making.

The Nigerian Ambassador, Josef Egbuson, commented that the countries of Africa "view with satisfaction that Brazil is projecting black awareness in a positive way, to the success and aggrandizement of the Brazilian population. It is an affirmative movement that the whole world should copy."

On Barriga Mountain, the Palmares Quilombo (runaway slave community) held out for nearly 100 years against the onslaughts of sugar plantation owners and Portuguese imperial soldiers who sought the runaway slaves.

Juliana Andrade works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.

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