Pro-social distancing doctor turns down Health Minister job

Pro-social distancing doctor turns down Health Minister job
Cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar. Photo: Still from CNN

As we explained in today’s Weekly Report (for premium and standard subscribers), cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar was tipped to take over the role of Health Minister, replacing the embattled Eduardo Pazuello. She met with President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday and received public praise from House Speaker Arthur Lira.

Ultimately, however, Dr. Hajjar withdrew her name from consideration.

Speaking to CNN Brasil, Dr. Hajjar said she had received death threats since being announced as a potential replacement for Mr. Pazuello, and someone tried to force their way into her Brasília hotel room. “I will return to São Paulo to continue my mission as a doctor. I will continue threatening people from both the left and the right. I will not be afraid,” she said.

For some, Dr. Hajjar always seemed a longshot — despite her being a renowned physician. She has repeatedly defended a science-based pandemic response for Brazil, supporting strict social isolation measures and speaking out against unproven coronavirus treatments — opinions that could put her on a collision path with Mr. Bolsonaro.

“What was lacking between us were agreements on technical issues,” she later told GloboNews, another TV news station. “I follow a philosophy that doesn’t seem to be aligned with the government’s expectations.” 

She added that Brazil has already lost too much time due to a lack of coordinated efforts to curb the coronavirus spread — and that the country must ask for help from the international community to obtain more vaccines. “Brazil discussed chloroquine, but failed to determine how patients should be treated in severe Covid-19 cases,” she said. “Governors are desperate as they face a health system collapse.”

“If there is no change in Brazil’s approach to the pandemic, it will be difficult to overcome the crisis without leaving deep scars.”

All signs point to Eduardo Pazuello leaving office sooner rather than later, meaning that Brazil will have to appoint its fourth Health Minister since the beginning of the pandemic. If President Bolsonaro’s pick is not a consensus, however, he could drive a wedge between his administration and congressional leaders — who seem poised to finally force the government into a more hands-on approach.

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