A Personal Encounter with Rio’s Public Health Crisis

Clique aqui para Português

For the original article in Portuguese by Douglas Felliphe published in Voz das Comunidades click here.

RioOnWatch Editor’s note: In June 2016 the State of Rio de Janeiro officially declared a “state of calamity” due to bankruptcy in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games, but the state’s hospitals had already been in a state of crisis for months. Some hospitals were closed, others had services greatly reduced. The salaries of medical staff were delayed for months. Several hospitals lacked sufficient medicine and supplies. Today, the situation remains dire. Patients are being turned away from state and municipal hospitals, and local health units. All are short on medicine and staff. Meanwhile, hospitals that are relatively better equipped are struggling to meet demand. Last week, October 18, municipal health workers protested continued delays to their salary payments. Below, we translated a favela resident’s account of a recent experience with the public health system.

It’s been awhile since I wrote here. Things have been hectic at home. But today, while the next train has yet to arrive for me to [walk down the aisles] selling my crossword puzzles, I’ve sat down here and I’m going to lay out my thoughts for you all.

I don’t know if you all know, but my darling Regina is pregnant, and like all pregnant women she needs to go to the doctor, get tests, and everything else. We went to the health center here [in the favela]. Once we got there we learned that, because of the police operation and the constant shooting, the doctors were not seeing people, and in order to see a doctor we would have to go down the hill, take a bus and a metro to get to another hospital where a doctor would see us.

Of course we didn’t go! We went back home. Am I going to go walking around with my darling and my baby in this war that has been declared in Rio? Never! I already suffered so much hearing the story of the pregnant woman who was hit by a bullet and her baby died…

But after some days, my darling began to have pains, pains, and more pains…

There was no other way, I called a moto-taxi to get down the hill with my darling and then an Uber to the hospital. We arrived, and there were more people in the reception area than in the Maracanã stadium during a Flamengo game. Five hours later my darling Regina was attended to. The doctor ordered some tests that were done there and then, and said: she will be hospitalized!

I got her ready in the expectation that she would go to a room, taking medicine and those things… but nothing like that, the hospitalization was in corridor 5 of the general clinical ward. That’s right, a pregnant woman ordered into hospitalization, but not into a room, because there was no room.

In the corridor it was not only darling Regina, but many, many other people… Women of 80, 90 years of age that had been there for weeks. Without a room. All hospitalized in the corridor.

Those people survive thanks to the attention of nurses and handful of doctors. These, the nurses, have been without wages for months and are still going to work so as not to neglect caring for the public.

Many of those nurses would leave the hospital and go straight to wait in line to try and get a basket of basic staples, the only hope for food in their homes. Others were trying to escape, not from the police, but from eviction orders for not paying the rent.

Two weeks… For two weeks my darling Regina was in the corridor of the hospital with me sitting in a plastic chair, accompanying her. Thank God she was discharged, and we returned home.

Arriving home, I see on the news on TV that in some apartment they found more than R$51 million (US$16 million) in cash. Man, I can’t even imagine one million in cash, let alone 51…

When I saw that report, I remembered the nurses without salaries, the people here on the hill without a doctor because of the insecurity. I thought of how many months of salaries all of that money could pay, how many hospitals could be built, and how many more cops on the street.

These were just thoughts. Vague and uncertain thoughts, because what’s for sure is that this is not the first time they have found bags of money in Brazil and, maybe like the other times, it won’t result in anything, because here we only pretend to believe that justice is impartial before all.

Speaking of bags, I am going to get mine… Mine does not have 51 million. It has 10 packets of candy, 40 crossword puzzles, and two transport vouchers.

The train has arrived… More later!