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Virus-hit Brazil lets Cuban doctors resume work

Brazil has registered 254,220 cases and 16,792 deaths from COVID-19, though experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more.

FILE: Brazil' President Jair Bolsonaro. Picture: AFP..

BRASALIA, Brazil - Brazil re-enlisted more than 150 Cuban doctors on Monday to help fight a surge in coronavirus cases, a year and a half after Havana ended a medical assistance program over a row with President Jair Bolsonaro.

The doctors, who had opted to stay in Brazil after the Cuban government pulled the plug on the program that sent them, received new medical licenses from the Brazilian health ministry under a program to round up reinforcements for the overstretched health system.

"The following Cuban physicians are hereby granted licenses to practice medicine under the 'Mais Medicos' program," said an edict published in the official diary.

"Mais Medicos" -- More Doctors -- is the name of a program under which Cuba sent more than 8,000 doctors to work in under-served public clinics and hospitals in Brazil.

Launched in 2013 under Brazil's then left-wing government, the program became a top target for far-right leader Bolsonaro, who compared it to "slavery" during his 2018 presidential campaign.

Cuba's communist government, fiercely proud of its vaunted health system and medical diplomacy, angrily pulled its doctors out of Brazil in November 2018, shortly before Bolsonaro took office.

Hundreds chose to stay, however, in some cases because they had married and started families in Brazil.

But they lost their licenses to practice medicine, and have in many cases been stuck working odd jobs to survive.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which has rapidly spiralled in Brazil -- now the country with the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Russia.

Brazil has registered 254,220 cases and 16,792 deaths from COVID-19, though experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more.

Bolsonaro has compared the virus to a "little flu" and condemned the "hysteria" surrounding it.

But with many hospitals near breaking point, his government decided in March to bring in extra medical personnel as reinforcements, now extended to include the Cuban doctors.