Brazilian federal prosecutor blasts 'More Doctors' program for underpayment of Cuban doctors

A federal prosecutors' office has alleged irregularities in the way Brazil pays Cuban doctors participating in a program set up to provide health care in remote areas, and is urging the country to pay the physicians directly rather than through their government.

In a statement issued late Monday, prosecutor Luciana Loureiro Oliveira blasted as "frankly illegal" an agreement among the Cuban and Brazilian governments and the World Health Organization. Under the setup, the program's Cuban doctors are paid about a fourth of what Brazil gives the Cuban government through the World Health Organization for their services.

While Brazil pays about $4,000 per month for each of the around 11,000 Cuban doctors in the program, Oliveira said it found a contract in which at least one of those doctors was getting only $1,000 a month.

The statement urged Brazil to pay the Cubans directly, instead of going through the WHO and the Cuban government, arguing the payment is an unfair labor practice.

The Brazilian government on Tuesday denied the allegations of irregularities, insisting the program "follows all the rules."

"The Health Ministry restates the importance of the program, which has brought medical attention to nearly 50 million Brazilians," the government said in a statement.

Among a raft of measures implemented after nationwide anti-government protests last year, the "More Doctors" program aims to recruit foreigners to help improve health care access in remote, rural areas where Brazilian doctors don't want to work. It has been criticized by groups representing Brazilian physicians, alleging that the Cubans are insufficiently trained and the program violates rules for certifying foreign doctors.

A total of around 14,000 doctors from various countries participate in the program.