No path forward

Brazil ranks 2nd in Covid-19 deaths, but 63rd when it comes to testing

According to former Ministers, there’s a “lack of political will and capacity” to increase testing

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
For Alexandre Padilha, a former health Minister, the problem is not with funding. “There is no political will" to increase testing - Fonte: Agência Brasil

Though Brazil is the country with the second highest number of covid-19 infections (2,8 million) and deaths (98000) globally, it is only the 63rd when it comes to testing. According to Worldometers, which compiles data from the World Health Organization (WHO), governments and scientific journals, Brazil has conducted 13,1 million tests, which represents only 62 tests per 1000 inhabitants.

These figures place Brazil behind countries with weaker economies like Peru, Cape Verde, Chile, Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands.
Social isolation and identifying those who are ill through testing, has been recommended by the WHO since the entity declared a global pandemic on the 11th of March of this year. On April 28th, on the eve of a change in command at the Health Ministry, the federal government stated that it intended to test 46 million Brazilians by September.

The National Health and Sanitation Agency (Anvisa), says there are 200 different types of coronavirus tests. The ways of administering them are with blood samples or secretions from the nose and throat. The first kind identifies the presence of anti-bodies and let’s people know if they have come into contact with the disease, while the second precisely identifies if the virus is present in the body or not.

Ex-ministers express criticism

The 13,1 million tests done throughout Brazil include both of the types mentioned above. For former Health Minister Arthur Chioro, the crisis was created by Constitutuinal Amendment 95, approved in December of 2016, which caps healthcare expenditures.

“The amendment created budgetary restrictions for the Health Ministry over the last three years, to the tune of R$ 22 billion, which has dismantled our public health laboratories, like the Central Public Health Laboratory (LACEN), affirms Chioro.

For Alexandre Padilha, another former health Minister, the problem is not with funding. “There is no political will by the Bolsonaro government, it’s a genocidal government, and there is no way for anything to get done, the Ministry is under military occupation”.

On May 8th of this year, the “War Budget” was approved, which allows the Administration more flexibility with expenditures related to the pandemic, without these funds being tied to the State’s general budget. The bill stipulates that Federal authorities are authorized to break the so-called “golden rule” which forbids the State from creating more debt in order to pay for recurring ones.

Chioro laments that even with a bigger budget, the Bolsonaro administration has opted not to purchase more test kits. The former minister reminds us that states and municipalities had to buy their own test analysis gear, since the Federal government did not provide any public health assistance.

“Our testing capacity is shameful because from the very start, the administration didn’t make the right decisions. Our networks are semi automated, they need an array of things, almost 88% of devices are imported”, says Chioro, who ironically comments: “Deep down, Mandetta (a recently sacked health Minister) was comfortable with the budgetary restrictions, because he knew it wasn’t money that the Health Ministry needed”.

Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho