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Brazil goes through second Health Minister in under a month

and . May 15, 2020
Brazil goes through second Health Minister in under a month Nelson Teich, who resigned from the Health Ministry after 28 days. Photo: Júlio NascimentoPR

On April 16, President Jair Bolsonaro fired then-Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta after weeks of bickering over social isolation guidelines and the recommendation of chloroquine — an antimalarial drug with unproven effects on Covid-19 patients — as a “possible cure” for the coronavirus. With Mr. Mandetta gone, the president appointed oncologist Nelson Teich, who promised “total alignment” with the government. However, less than one month later, Nelson Teich resigned for the same reasons as his predecessor: disagreements over social isolation guidelines and the recommendation of chloroquine as a “possible cure” for the coronavirus. Jair Bolsonaro will now have to appoint yet another new Health Minister.

</p> <p>Two independent sources have told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/22/brazil-health-minister-to-name-army-general-as-his-deputy/">Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello</a> will be promoted to the department&#8217;s top job. An Army general whose expertise is in logistics, Mr. Pazuello will be the government&#8217;s tenth cabinet member <a href="https://www.gov.br/planalto/pt-br/conheca-a-presidencia/ministros">with a military background</a> — out of a total of 22. &#8220;He is not a healthcare expert. He will be a bureaucrat named solely to cater to the president&#8217;s wishes. Doctors and scientists wouldn&#8217;t accept tarnishing their diplomas [by taking the job],&#8221; said Senator Major Olímpio, a former ally of the president, who is growing increasingly more independent from the administration.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2383844" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2383844/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>The new minister faces a Herculean task: managing a generation-defining health crisis while indulging the bravado of a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/17/brazil-coronavirus-deniers-positions-power/">president who constantly ignores scientific evidence</a>. With the ink barely having dried on Mr. Teich&#8217;s resignation letter, Mr. Bolsonaro announced he would alter healthcare protocols to allow the use of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-21/nigeria-reports-chloroquine-poisonings-after-trump-praised-drug">chloroquine</a> for any Covid-19 patient. However, a Brazilian study carried out in the Amazonian city of Manaus suggests that the drug may actually be harmful. Researchers halted a trial after patients who received higher doses of chloroquine showed <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/13/brazilian-researchers-link-high-doses-chloroquine-deaths/">alterations in their heart rates and higher lethality rates</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Brazil&#8217;s infection and death curves continue to rise, and the country is already sixth on the list of nations with the most confirmed cases. The country is headed to become the next <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/05/08/brazil-in-worst-of-both-worlds-during-covid-19-pandemic/">epicenter of the pandemic</a> —&nbsp;and that is only going by official data. As we at <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> have consistently informed you, <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/03/29/low-testing-casts-doubt-over-covid-19-reality-brazil/">under-reporting in the country is massive</a>&nbsp;— and experts say the real number of infections might very well have <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/13/bolsonarists-pandemic-would-be-over-by-now-that-was-11000-deaths-ago/">topped 4 million</a>.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3644899"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/3644899-107-why-is-support-for-bolsonaro-so-resilient.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-3644899&#038;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Health Minister Teich: one month of nothing</h2> <p>While losing (another) Health Minister amid the worst pandemic in a century is, in theory, horrible, we also cannot say that Nelson Teich was performing a stellar job by anyone&#8217;s estimations. In four weeks, <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/04/26/coronavirus-impeachment-exchange-rate-brazil-numbers-this-week/">his department bungled daily reports</a> —&nbsp;publishing inaccurate data and not always warning the public about its corrections. Moreover, the minister never presented a plan to increase testing, <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/05/07/sao-paulo-can-avoid-covid-19-collapse/">avoid a healthcare collapse</a> across the country, or simply to save lives. The only noteworthy move of his tenure was admitting that the Brazilian government is &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/29/health-minister-says-brazil-is-flying-blind-during-pandemic/">flying blind</a>&#8221; through the pandemic.</p> <p>As a matter of fact, many Brazilian insiders said that state governors described the minister as &#8220;lost,&#8221; and sources said Deputy Minister Pazuello was the one really calling the shots.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <iframe title="COVID-19 cases and deaths in Brazil" aria-label="Map" id="datawrapper-chart-vvN3h" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/vvN3h/9/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important; border: none;" height="557"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",(function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}}))}(); </script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>Despite being neutered and belittled at nearly every turn, Mr. Teich did try, though.</p> <p>He promised to unite an approach that would combine the necessity of saving the economy, while <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/13/bolsonarists-pandemic-would-be-over-by-now-that-was-11000-deaths-ago/">flattening the curve of new cases</a>, designing a plan to create an “infection index.” The idea would be to rate states according to different criteria in order to determine how strict social isolation rules would be&nbsp;—&nbsp;from loose measures to complete lockdown. But his boss, the staunchest opponent of quarantines, didn&#8217;t even let him present the plan.</p> <p>Instead, the president literally declared &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/14/brazil-president-jair-bolsonaro-against-lockdown-its-war/">war</a>&#8221; on governors who consider placing their states under lockdown, and signed a decree <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/05/12/essential-jobs-how-bolsonaro-plans-to-force-brazil-back-to-work/">enhancing the number of activities</a> labeled as &#8220;essential,&#8221; that is, allowed to continue operating despite the quarantine. Mr. Bolsonaro did not consult his top health official before making either decision. “That was announced today?” Mr. Teich asked reporters during a press conference, in disbelief. “It didn’t go through us, it’s not our responsibility. This is a decision from the president.”</p> <p>Another point of contention is the use of chloroquine as a &#8220;possible cure&#8221; to Covid-19. On Wednesday, Mr. Teich used social media to warn about the risks of using the antimalarial drug against Covid-19. Hours later, President Bolsonaro once again touted the medicine, overruling the minister — adding that his cabinet members must be &#8220;<a href="https://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2020/05/13/apos-teich-fazer-alerta-sobre-cloroquina-bolsonaro-defende-o-medicamento-e-pede-ministros-alinhados-com-ele.ghtml">aligned</a>&#8221; with him.

 
Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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