BRAZIL: Over 19k health workers contesting local elections

More than 19,000 health workers are standing in local elections that will take place across the country this month.

As Brazilians are only days away from nationwide municipal elections, Dr. Gustavo Treistman weaves through stalls at a busy street market in Grajaú, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro’s north zone. Dr. Treistman is a 33-year-old emergency room doctor running for the city council who believes Brazil’s public health system needs to be strengthened.

Treistman is one of the 19,400 health workers running in local elections set to take place across the country starting on November 15, according to data from Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court. The candidate, who is campaigning with the United Socialist Workers’ Party, has promised to fight for more public healthcare funding if he is elected.

According to the electoral court, the number of candidacies by doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals – from all sides of Brazil’s political and ideological spectrum – has jumped 15 percent in 2020 compared with the last local election in 2016.

Many of these candidates are scrambling to win over Brazilians with campaigns centered on healthcare, as the country continues to wrestle with one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

As COVID-19 ravages Brazil, the timing for these political hopefuls may be just right. While corruption and security were front and center in Brazil’s 2018 national elections – which helped far-right President Jair Bolsonaro rise to power – healthcare has now overshadowed these issues for many voters, observers say.

Eduardo Grin, a researcher at the think tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas, remarks that while doctors have played a consistent role in Brazilian politics over the years, the pandemic has created a unique opening for a fresh wave of candidacies by health workers, some of whom may have harbored political ambitions before the pandemic,

Brazil has recorded more than 5.6 million cases of COVID-19 and 162,000 deaths, making the outbreak the world’s second-deadliest, trailing behind the United States.

A few months ago, the poorly prepared public health system in cities across Brazil was collapsing under the weight of new cases, as hospitals run out of critical care beds. Meanwhile, Brazilian authorities struggled to lock down cities effectively; as isolation measures deteriorated, COVID-19 cases surged. The virus particularly hard hit more impoverished communities – including densely populated favelas – that are already underserved.

Now, health workers who battled on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis are suddenly being viewed by many voters as credible and trustworthy, according to Dr. Gerson Salvador, an infectious disease specialist at the University Hospital of Sao Paulo.

“People saw that they could count on health workers,” he said over the phone. “They saw that doctors and nurses sacrificed themselves to respond to the crisis; they were working on the front lines, despite the government’s erratic response.” (TELESUR) 

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