University of São Paulo: Research exposes structural racism in health institutions

Racism is deeply rooted in Brazilian culture, so much so that the measures to combat racial discrimination, adopted by the federal government, used for the first time, in 2005, the expression “institutional racism” to explain that it manifests itself in the organizational structures of society and in institutions, which includes the Unified Health System (SUS). According to the National Health Survey (PNS) of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), carried out in 2015, 23.3% of black and brown people have already felt discriminated against in health services.

The master’s research Analysis of institutional racism in sexual and reproductive health care in the city of Ribeirão Preto-SP, by the nurse Marcelo Vinicius Domingos Rodrigues dos Santos, from the USP Ribeirão Preto College of Nursing (EERP), reveals that this problem is so “common” that few people identify that they have suffered racial discrimination.

Research shows how racism perpetuates in power structures
The aim of the study was to identify how often black and brown patients suffered racial discrimination and violence in health institutions in the city of Ribeirão Preto, in the interior of São Paulo, and which types of violence the interviewees identified. “One of the interviewees described a situation that she witnessed: in the report, the person says that she saw a black pregnant woman being ignored by an employee for a few hours in the waiting room and, when the pregnant woman was seen, she was treated as an ordinary patient”, she comments the researcher.

Santos also says that, in addition to skin color, health institutions take into account the individual’s socioeconomic class to define, for example, the order of care for patients. “Respondents reported discriminatory behavior on the part of health workers, as a result of social status and skin color, something totally contrary to what is determined in the National Humanization Policy of the SUS”, he says.
However, according to the survey, few people realize when they suffer discrimination during care. Using the Scales of Perception of Racial Discrimination in Health questionnaire , Santos identified that, of the 182 people interviewed, 71.54% of them perceived, in some situations, to have suffered racial discrimination in health services. Among the others, around 28% of respondents, 81.82% stated that they had seen or suffered racial discrimination by doctors and nurses.

“Since racial discrimination is such an old cultural problem, it is difficult to combat it,” says Santos. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change the current scenario,” he says. The researcher claims that it is necessary to make people aware so that they are not afraid to access the SUS’ reporting channels when they witness discriminatory acts on the part of employees.

“We must also fight for an egalitarian health system, promoting the re-education of health professionals regarding patient care and better educating future professionals while they are still in college”, says the researcher. “Furthermore, even if we have a long job ahead of us, it is necessary to educate society in order to reduce discriminatory actions seen on a daily basis.”

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