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Diabetes and hypertension are chronic diseases, manageable and well known both to lay people and experts. Even so, they are the main causes of death in Brazil and worldwide. In 2008, they were related to at least 62% of deaths with known causes in the country. It was necessary to prevent the deaths of more Brazilians.
Created in 2011, in fact, the Health Has No Price program requires an investment of R$ 1.3 billion per year for hypertension and diabetes, and R$ 59.1 million for asthma. The Program distributes 11 types of medication for hypertension and diabetes, benefiting about 2.3 million diabetics and 11.6 million hypertensive patients who cannot afford medicines or would harm their quality of life if they needed to stay on treatment for long periods. The Ministry of Health believes that, thanks to the program, up to 40% of strokes and 25% of heart attacks can be prevented.
In 2012, three drugs against asthma, a disease that is a leading cause of hospitalizations of children, also began to be distributed for free. In just one year, 1.2 million people have picked up drugs. The result was noticed immediately: the number of children hospitalized with asthma declined 16% after the distribution began. In absolute numbers, 20,000 children did not require hospitalization.
Today there are over 800 medications offered for free by the SUS.
In 2014, another 56 new drugs will join this list.
• SUS begins to offer vaccine against hepatitis A to children
It seemed natural and inevitable: Brazilians who could not afford the price of drugs stood in long lines for hours or even days to obtain the medications to which they were entitled. The Popular Pharmacy established in 2003 by the Ministry of Health has changed this picture.
In any one of the 30,105 points of sale for the program, Brazilians can buy medicines with up to 90% discount for cholesterol, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease, glaucoma, rhinitis and dyslipidemia, contraceptives and even diapers. The free medication for diabetes, hypertension and asthma are received over the network’s counters — mostly in private pharmacies registered with the Ministry.
Currently, the program provides 113 items through its the network maintained by the Ministry of Health. Through the private network, wherever the This Is A Popular Pharmacy seal is displayed, 25 items are subsidized for consumers.
The list of drugs provided free by the Single Health System for Brazilians who cannot afford treatment increases every two years, when the Ministry of Health updates the list. In one decade, the number of medications increased 140%. In 2002, 352 drugs were available to the population; now there are 844, all proven to be effective.
With most medications, there are more alternatives available for patients who no longer respond to treatments that had been used before, as well as demonstrate the possibility of cure for rare diseases.
Since 2012, 56 drugs have been approved by the Ministry of Health and will be offered to the population as of 2014. The list will include at least 900 medications. Patients of diseases such as hepatitis C, breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the follicular type, HIV, lung cancer and respiratory infections will benefit.
Difficulties created by chronic dependence on foreign labs led to an innovative decision: Brazil now has a state-owned company exclusively to research, develop and produce medicinal products derived from blood.
Hemobrás, the Brazilian blood product and biotechnology company, is close to completing construction of a plant in Pernambuco. When the facility is up and running, it will produce medications to safeguard the lives of hemophiliacs and people with genetic immunodeficiency, cancer, cirrhosis, AIDS and severe burns treatment through the Single Health System.
The official immunization schedule in Brazil only reached children. In 2004, protection was extended to teens and the elderly, who came to rely on respective calendars of immunization against diseases like pneumonia, influenza, yellow fever, tetanus and hepatitis B, for example. In addition, people over 60 are still vaccinated against influenza in regular campaigns that reach, on average, 87% of the planned population — representing 18.3 million elderly persons immune to influenza.
The protection of new population groups takes place simultaneously, with the incorporation of new and more effective vaccines to protect children. One of them, pentavalent, prevents five diseases.
In 2014, all children 1-4 years of age were to be vaccinated against chickenpox, pregnant women immunized against pertussis and girls 10 and 11 years old against the HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer.
Some of these vaccines began to be manufactured in Brazil. This is the case of the medication that protects against yellow fever, manufactured in a plant in Ceará, something unprecedented in the world. Already three doses of the HPV vaccine — which is already being produced in Brazil — that costs up to R$ 1,000.00 in private clinics, has been offered free of charge to girls 11-13 years old since 2014.