Brazil: Ready for Future Growth in Health Care

7/9/14

The eyes of the world are on Brazil. It is one of the most dynamic countries in the southern hemisphere; the sixth-largest economy in the world; and host of the World Cup, now drawing to a close. In 2016, Brazil will host the Summer Olympics.

The World Cup is bringing attention to Brazil, and being in the spotlight results in media reports focused on issues that are problematic in Brazil, from a sluggish, post-boom economy to poor preparations as athletes and tourists descended for one of the world’s most watched athletic events.

Indeed, Brazil is a country of dichotomy: It has huge potential balanced by a great deal of inertia. It is a world that is wealthy in many ways, but not necessarily in terms of health, particularly as related to a litany of infectious diseases.

Brazil holds a special place for me—indeed, it catalyzed my desire to work in the field of global health when I visited in the early 1990s and saw the great potential of the country and its people being held back by the lack of tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat a variety of devastating diseases.

Parts of Brazil are heavily burdened by leprosy, tuberculosis, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis, among other diseases that continue to plague its population. A case in point: Brazil accounts for about 11 percent of the 250,000 new cases of leprosy around the world each year, more cases than any other nation except India.

Improving health is a major issue in Brazil. Indeed, in a 2013 poll, nearly half the respondents said they thought health care was Brazil’s number-one problem.

But Brazil is taking steps to improve the health of its citizens. The country’s constitution cites health care as a free and universal right for its 200 million citizens (though, as in many other countries, there is a relatively high rate of private supplements to public care, if one can afford it). And, in terms of infectious diseases, Brazil has made a national commitment to eliminate leprosy.

But leprosy, like other devastating infectious diseases, is too big a problem to tackle alone. This is where my organization, IDRI (Infectious Disease Research Institute), would like to provide technologies that can improve the health of Brazilians.

In an effort to help Brazil, IDRI, is working with the Brazilian government on state-of-the-art technology transfers for tuberculosis, leprosy, and leishmaniasis solutions. We’re also in the process of setting up local health technology companies that will be operated and run by Brazilians for Brazilians. Developing and delivering solutions locally in Brazil will reduce prices of products needed to combat diseases that plague Brazilians and put its visitors at risk.

Brazil has much potential—it’s an incredibly rich country in many ways. And I believe that global health successes in Brazil will spill over into other countries in South America and around the world.

The next—and critical—step, however, is starting to make infectious diseases disappear in Brazil, as the world’s most gifted and talented athletes and their fans take part in the World Cup and Olympics.

Steve Reed is the founder, president and chief scientific officer of Seattle-based IDRI. Follow @

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