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What must Brazil learn from the coronavirus crisis?

. Apr 13, 2020
What must Brazil learn from the coronavirus crisis? Bolsonaro supporter in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Tatiane Silva/Shutterstock

Beyond the health crisis, the coronavirus outbreak is taking Brazil through an interesting phase, laying bare the discrepancy between federal, state, and city authorities. While some countries have chosen to stay united in their fight against coronavirus, Brazil’s news cycle has become an unstoppable stream of contradictory opinions and plans, showing that the president, his cabinet, state and city administrators, Congress, and the judiciary are all coming at the crisis from different angles and points of view. 

Going beyond the political discourse, this crisis has uncovered a reality of extensive bureaucracy, a fractured healthcare system, a lack of leadership, and a lack of financial impetus for health and educational institutions. There is plenty to improve upon regarding Brazilian public policy; perhaps the crisis could offer a learning opportunity.

According to

Brazil&#8217;s <a href="https://www.gov.br/economia/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/2020/marco/confira-as-medidas-tomadas-pelo-ministerio-da-economia-em-funcao-do-covid-19-coronavirus">Economy Ministry</a>, GDP projections for 2020 fell from an initial 2.1 percent growth to just 0.02 percent. Analysts are treating recession as unavoidable. Brazil has so far invested BRL 306.2 billion in contingency measures: re-allocating BRL 4.5 billion to the public health system, offering extra credit of BRL 3.4 billion for the ministries of Science and Technology, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Citizenship, and clearing BRL 100 million in social assistance for all municipalities in the country.</p> <p>Other measures include tax deductions, reducing import tariffs for health and pharma materials related to the coronavirus, calling for startups who could offer innovative solutions for Covid-19.&nbsp; While the list of measures is not short, they have come into effect especially during the crisis and show that the government needs to rethink its strategy to deal with a crippled economy and polarization.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Developing cohesive leadership&nbsp;</h2> <p>The lack of a cohesive and determined approach to combat the coronavirus pandemic has left Brazil polarized and yet indecisive. The clearest example of this is President Bolsonaro himself, who has repeatedly flouted and criticized the social distancing measures supported by the Health Ministry.&nbsp;</p> <p>When he <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/03/31/in-televised-speech-bolsonaro-spreads-falsehoods-about-who-head/">addresses the nation</a>, President Bolsonaro’s official speeches are between five to eight minutes long. Compared to other leaders of major countries, this is surprisingly short. France&#8217;s Emmanuel Macron has made two addresses of between 17 to 22 minutes, while India&#8217;s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made three speeches, averaging between 30 and 47 minutes.</p> <p>Contrary to other leaders who have called for developing national unity, solidarity, and discipline to practice social isolation, Mr. Bolsonaro hasn&#8217;t effectively used his time to develop a rapport with Brazilians and bring them around to his point of view. Though a certain section of his electoral base continues to support President Bolsonaro, on a broader scale the country has been denied from having a decisive political leader with stable governance, instilling a sense of security, solidarity, and order in the state.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>Learn from abroad</h2> <p>Unlike the U.S., Brazil has the advantage of having a universal public health system, guaranteeing all citizens and residents their constitutional right to health. However, Brazil also has Latin America&#8217;s biggest private health network, as the public system is often derided as being slow, short on resources, and overcrowded.</p> <p>As a result, certain sections of the population don&#8217;t use the public health system, sticking instead to private plans. The challenge, therefore, is not it is not about how public policy should expand health expenditure — which is obvious due to inflation and demand — but rather it is about rethinking the structure and financing of the public health system, making it an agile and effective organization for every Brazilian.</p> <p>In terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brazil has much to learn from nations such as Vietnam and South Korea, who have developed effective means of testing their populations. India, meanwhile, has announced the world&#8217;s largest lockdown for 21 days, the government has used media campaigns to ask its citizens to become &#8220;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGKEJOx-JfQ">corona warriors</a>,&#8221; &#8220;enlisting&#8221; everyday people to self-police social isolation among their families.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Brazil, no such sense of duty or unity exists.</p> <p>In order to produce low-cost ventilators to treat severe coronavirus patients, manufacturing teams at Indian company <a href="https://yourstory.com/2020/03/mahindra-ventilator-prototype-india-covid19-coronavirus">Mahindra &amp; Mahindra</a> confined themselves to their factories and produced a design for a ventilator prototype in just 48 hours, without sleep. The fact that Brazil, on the other hand, is relying on importing crucial aid material from China reveals lack in sectoral diversification, especially when it comes to manufacturing health equipment.</p> <h2>Invest in innovation</h2> <p>Brazil’s <a href="https://www.oecd.org/brazil/EAG2014-Country-Note-Brazil.pdf">public expenditure</a> on education is higher than several OECD member nations and fellow countries in Latin America. Brazil&#8217;s educational institutions dominate the <a href="https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/2019-qs-world-university-rankings-latin-america-supplement/?utm_source=qswebsite&amp;utm_medium=blog">Latin American Rankings</a>, yet the country faces challenges related to internationalization, investment in science and technology, and research and development. This has become increasingly challenging given that the current government has reduced the education budget, thereby limiting investment in research and development.&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that the Economy Ministry has taken measures to call on startups or technological solutions shows that the country is facing a deficit in terms of access and development of technology. Developing public or private institutes of higher education to develop a talented workforce is crucial for the country to regain its technological competitiveness. Positive examples around the world include the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management, or France’s Grande Ecole system.&nbsp;</p> <p>One has to recognize that every country in the world is facing a crisis and are depending upon their own strengths and weaknesses to address these new challenges. In some cases, countries may come out the other side stronger and more unified, enjoying a national sense of solidarity.</p> <p>Brazilian politicians, policymakers, and citizens must realize that the future of Brazil should go beyond left-right debates, fake news, and political propaganda. </p> <p>Brazil faces extreme inequality the Covid-19 pandemic must show the country that its political, social and economic reforms must involve national security with an emphasis on human dignity and self-reliance, which could feed back into its governance system, to foster its growth not necessarily in accordance with the neoliberal model but by developing its own platform for growth.&nbsp;

 
Umesh Mukhi

Dr. Umesh Mukhi is a Professor of Management at Fundação Getulio Vargas' São Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP). At FGV-EAESP he is affiliated to the Centre of Sustainability and Department of Management. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the institution.

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