Brazil has a new Health Minister

. Apr 16, 2020
brazil health minister Mandetta out. Photo: Marcelo Casal Jr/ABr

This newsletter is for PREMIUM subscribers only. Become one now!

In an unsurprising move, Jair Bolsonaro fired Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta this afternoon. As our Daily Briefing informed this morning, tensions between the two have been brewing for weeks — with Mr. Mandetta and President Jair Bolsonaro defending completely opposite strategies to deal with the pandemic. The former minister is in favor of broad social isolation, while the president wants to switch the economy back on, urging people to return to work despite public health concerns. Furthermore, Mr. Mandetta and the president butted heads over the use of antimalarial drug chloroquine to treat Covid-19. Its efficacy against the virus has not been proven, yet Mr. Bolsonaro is adamant it should be prescribed as a potential cure. 

The rift between the two men reached an insurmountable level after Mr. Mandetta began publicly criticizing the president in media interviews.

</p> <ul><li>By sacking Mr. Mandetta, Jair Bolsonaro doubles down on his decision to counter mainstream experts and the World Health Organization. Whatever the results of that approach are, it is now clear that Mr. Bolsonaro will be held responsible.</li></ul> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="578" src="" alt="new health minister nelson teich" class="wp-image-36274" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1311w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Nelson Teich in. </figcaption></figure> <p><strong>The replacement. </strong>Oncologist Nelson Teich, who also <a href="">owns a medical consultancy firm</a>, is Brazil&#8217;s new Health Minister. During his first speech as a member of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s cabinet, he claimed to be &#8220;completely aligned with the president,&#8221; but said that no abrupt change in course will be taken.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Mr. Teich defended mass testing to allow Brazil to pursue its containment strategies from now on. The <a href="">need for testing is urgent</a>, but the new minister gave no hint to <em>how</em> he will make that happen. His predecessor had specifically allocated available tests to more severe patients due to a scarcity of resources, with countries around the world engaging in cut-throat competition for the same medical supplies.</li></ul> <p><strong>Under new management. </strong>Mr. Teich also defended a balance between social isolation measures and strategies to allow the economy to recover — there is some scientific backing to this stance, as a tanking economy is also proven to increase mortality rates in Brazil.</p> <ul><li><strong>Glass half-full.</strong> The new minister is respected within the medical community and favors evidence-based decision-making. That should be the bare minimum, but recent history has shown that scientific thinking can be a rarity in Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s cabinet.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Glass half-empty. </strong>Mr. Teich has no experience working in Brazil&#8217;s <a href="">public health system</a> (SUS), a widely complex beast that serves more than 70 percent of the population, making it the largest network of its kind in the world. He will have to learn the ropes amid the worst pandemic in a century —&nbsp;and just before infections and deaths are expected to skyrocket and several states <a href="">face imminent collapse</a>.</li></ul> <p><strong>Bolsonaro. </strong>In a televised speech, President Jair Bolsonaro appeared tense, making statements with excessive pauses and repeating himself at points. Looking physically and mentally drained, he was the personification of an administration that is politically isolated and desperately needs a home run to avoid collapse.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="576" src="" alt="Bolsonaro fires health minister" class="wp-image-36285" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1920w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: GloboNews</figcaption></figure> <p><strong>Mandetta.</strong> The pandemic&nbsp;transformed Mr. Mandetta in the <a href="">most popular figure</a> of the Jair Bolsonaro administration, being seen as something of a &#8220;hero&#8221; when contrasted with the president&#8217;s haphazard approach to public health. Until February, however, his stint as Health Minister had been unremarkable at best. Moreover, while the outgoing minister has merits for trying to get ahead of the pandemic and asking for Congress to declare a state of public calamity, his department was slow in gathering supplies before they were no longer available. The first big purchase of testing kits was announced on March 21 —&nbsp;almost a full month after the first Covid-19 case was reported in São Paulo.</p> <ul><li>He also failed to give clear guidelines to standardize data on suspect cases — leading to massive underreporting that is making the fight against the virus all the more difficult.</li></ul> <p><strong>Challenges.</strong> Nelson Teich faces a Herculean task, including:</p> <ul><li>How to jump-start economic activity without a clear testing policy, with short-, mid-, and long-term criteria?</li><li>At this point, is it still possible to track the contact infected people have had with others and isolate suspected cases?</li><li>If the president has struck down a bill to allow authorities to track people&#8217;s GPS data, how will the government be able to enforce social isolation?</li><li>Will the Health Ministry be transparent and allow scientists to scrutinize mathematical models to project the evolution of Covid-19?</li><li>When will the government publish sanitary rules for companies — both for essential services and for those which prepare to return to work?</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1921655" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>

Read the full story NOW!

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at