Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Cuba ended a program in which it sent thousands of doctors to treat millions of poor Brazilians over statements by newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that he plans changes, including getting doctors to sign individual contracts.
Bolsonaro "has questioned the qualification of our doctors and has conditioned their permanence in the program to a process of validation of their titles, and established that contracts will only be signed on an individual basis," the Cuban public health ministry said Wednesday.
"These unacceptable conditions make it impossible to maintain the presence of Cuban professionals in the program," it added.
According to the Cuban government, some 20,000 Cuban health professionals have worked in Brazil since 2013 as part of a program "following the principle of universal health coverage promoted by the World Health Organization."
"More than 700 municipalities were able to have a doctor for the first time ever," the ministry added.
The Cuban government cited a survey carried out by the Federal University of Minas Gerais, at the request of the Ministry of Health of Brazil, it said showed 95 percent of people in the poorest neighborhoods of the major cities, as well as indigenous Amazon communities, approved of Cuban doctors.
The Cuban ministry said Cuban doctors made up as much as 80 percent of all doctors working as part of a social program to reach the poorest Brazilians.
The New York Times reported in September 2017 that at least 150 Cuban doctors had filed lawsuits in Brazilian courts to challenge the arrangement under which the Cuban government makes doctors available and collects payments.
The report said sending doctors abroad was a way for the Cuban government to earn income and promote an image that it aids the world. It compared the lawsuits by some of the doctors working in Brazil with past defections of Cuban athletes.
Cuban doctors, who attended Cuban universities for free, receive little money from their government for the work, compared to what doctors earn in other parts of the world.
Bolsonaro won the Brazilian elections in early October with a campaign where he severely criticized left-oriented political groups within his country, promised to fight corruption and kept a nationalist rhetoric. His four-year term will begin January 1.