Brazil’s Health Ministry used only 29 percent of coronavirus budget

Brazil's Health Ministry used only 29 percent of coronavirus budget

The much-criticized Brazilian Health Ministry is facing heat once again, after a report by the Federal Accounts Court — an audit tribunal which monitors public spending — showed that the department used only 29 percent of its emergency coronavirus budget.

A special budgetary unit of BRL 38.9 billion (USD 7.6 billion) to deal with the Covid-19 crisis was created back in March, when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Until June 25 — when infections were over 1.2 million and deaths in Brazil topped 55,000 — only BRL 11.4 billion had been effectively used. Transfers to states and municipalities were only 39 and 36 percent of what was promised, respectively. And spending on federal actions occurred at an even smaller rate: 11.4 percent of the projected budget. 

Experts say two things have contributed to these underwhelming numbers: (1) President Jair Bolsonaro’s belittling of the pandemic; (2) the two changes at the helm of the ministry — which, of course, also ties in with Mr. Bolsonaro. For the past two months, the Health Ministry has been led on an interim basis by Army General Eduardo Pazuello, who is a logistics expert and has no experience in the field of health.

The accounts court’s report shows that there is no relation between the severity of the outbreak in a given state and how much money it received from the federal government. “It is noteworthy that Pará and Rio de Janeiro have posted the second- and third-highest Covid-19 mortality rates […] but are among the three states which received the lowest amount of money, per capita, to deal with the pandemic,” reads the report. In both Pará and Rio, the Federal Police launched operations into alleged corruption schemes to embezzle part of the coronavirus budget.

The Health Ministry was asked to provide the criteria it used to allocate the money but has yet to respond.

Due to the hiccups in using available resources, the Federal Prosecution Office has opened an inquiry into possible federal omission. Members of the opposition have gone as far as denouncing Mr. Bolsonaro to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, using words like “genocide” and “crime against humanity” to describe his handling of the pandemic.

An exclusive study by The Brazilian Report showed earlier this month that, in 13 of Brazil’s 27 states, daily investments in healthcare services amounted to less than BRL 1 (USD 0.19) per capita between 2017 and 2019. 

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