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A Doctor’s Dispatch from Brazil

"Okay, doc, I'll do it, I'll do it." But he never did.

We love featuring personal stories on VITAL from frontline health workers all over the world. We especially love it when they tell us about the clients who’ve moved them, the moments that keep them coming to work each day, and what it’s really like to work on the front lines of health care.

Here’s a dispatch from Vânia Soares de Oliveira e Almeida Pinto, a physician in Brazil who works hard to combat hypertension and diabetes in her community. Today she’s using her story to advocate for policy changes that could expand access to health care in her town, and in others like it.

A Doctor’s Dispatch from Brazil:

Can you imagine a community without hope? A community that cannot look beyond today and can only see what is right in front of them?

All they can see is today, this day. They live in poverty. What will we eat today? How will we survive today?

When I arrived in the small, mountainous town of Teofilo Otoni in Brazil, I was a foreigner. They used to look at me and say, "Who is this girl? What does she think she's doing over here?"

It was there I met Sergio. Sergio was a middle-aged diabetic and an alcoholic. And his exam results were alarming.

I used to tell him, "Sergio, you must take your medicine. You must stop drinking. You must go on a healthier diet, because you're going to die this way."

And his answers were always, "Okay, doc. I'll do it. I'll do it." But he never did.

They never saw possibilities for tomorrow.

He was cheerful. He was smart, with sense of humor. But he seemed to not care about his health and about his life.

In fact, the more I got to know this community, the more I realized that I was not very trusted. It was as if I had no authority to advise them, although I had plenty of knowledge about their illnesses.

And I used to think, "Why? Why don't they take their medicine? Why don't they take their vaccines? Why don't they care about their health?"

The answer is that they never saw possibilities for tomorrow.

About six months after I met Sergio, I was examining him and I saw his right foot was black. It was necrosis. His foot had to be amputated.

And I thought, "It didn't have to be like this." Maybe health education and empowerment could have changed his life. I was devastated.

About three years ago, the government opened a new medical school in this area. As part of their training, the students are supposed to do home visits in the community. And the people welcome them, the people accept them.

However, they want something different from these health providers. They want to be listened to in their suffering. They say, "Sit beside us. Listen to our stories."

The community desires a more involved relationship between doctors and patients, doctors and population. When Medtronic Foundation’s HealthRise program was presented to my university, I thought, "God, this is the best opportunity we have had so far, an opportunity to apply protocols, to provide access to exams, and provide the health education for rural communities in our region."

Projects like HealthRise are essential for changing the realities of a life like Sergio's. And I'm grateful to be part of it.

Over time, I’ve started to see a slow transformation in this community. Now, they are starting to look forward to a healthier future. Now, they have hope for better days.

Read more posts in this series. Watch Vania’s video and others like it. And join the conversation online: #HealthWorkersCount

This post is based on Vania’s talk at SwitchPoint 2017, which was the first time she shared this story with a wider audience.  

This storytelling initiative is a collaboration of IntraHealth International and Medtronic Foundation.