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Brazil Government New Health Offer

Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao plans to distribute "morning after" pills to the poor. After just a few months in office, Brazils new health minister has managed to offend a lot of people with his new offerings.

Brazil's government has added "morning after" pills to its newly expanded birth control program in hopes of helping poor people reduce unwanted pregnancies and dangerous illegal abortions.

This announcement comes just a month after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the government would provide cheap birth control pills at 10,000 drug stores across Brazil.

This action has won Jose Gomes Temporao fans among social activists, pro-abortion groups and Brazil's poor.

The outspoken Temporao has emerged as the most controversial member of President Luiz Inacio Lula's government since he took office in March -- even taking on Pope Benedict.

He advocated that at time of his swearing in "Health has become the right of every citizen and the duty of the state,"

His priority was to put the state-funded national health system in order. The network of clinics offers free treatments including vaccinations, but with nearly a quarter of Brazil's 185 million people living in poverty, it is under funded and overburdened.

On assuming charge as the health minister he went on to cut prices on birth control pills and advised men to get vasectomies. His support for abortion and call for a referendum on its legalization in Brazil has outraged Roman Catholic leaders. Weeks before a visit by Pope Benedict to the world's largest Catholic nation, Temporao criticized the national bishops' council for its opposition to abortion.

Brazil is the worlds largest Roman Catholic nation, and the church has vehemently opposed any expansion of birth control. Brazilian Archbishop Orlando Brandes, who represents the church on this issue, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, his office said.

Brazil already distributes 254 million free condoms a year, many as part of an anti-AIDS program that makes a special effort just before each year's Carnival celebrations. Brazil also has handed out the morning-after pill and regular contraceptives at government pharmacies for years.

Under the newly expanded program, regular contraceptives will be offered at commercial drug stores for sale at just $2.40 for a year's supply.

Abortions are the fourth leading cause of maternal death in Brazil after hypertension, hemorrhages and infections. There are an estimated 800,000 illegal abortions in Brazil each year, and about 4,000 women die from such procedures annually.

Temporao political influence is from the socialist health reform movement. Being faithful to his political root he has now taken on the beer industry and global pharmaceutical companies.

He has proposed limitations on beer consumption and advertising it in order to crack down on heavy drinking.

He faced a lot of opposition when he when he criticized popular samba singer Zeca Pagodinho's frequent appearances in ads for Brahma beer.

Dora Kramer, a prominent columnist for the conservative Estado de S.Paulo, newspaper gave Temporao her seal of approval and called him an asset to the Lula government.

"It's a relief to see and hear the new health minister," she wrote. "He speaks about what concerns him, has a stand on controversial issues, and he doesn't curry favour."

His policy of distributing free drugs and condoms in his new AIDS program angered the international drug company Merck. Merck offered to cut the price of its AIDS drug Efavirenz to about $1 per pill but Temporao decided to break Merck's patent and buy a cheaper substitute from India.

His blunt style is reaching beyond national borders as he tries to spread Brazil's experience in the fight against AIDS. Tem porao is now pushing forward with plans to help African nations build plants to make cheaper drugs on their own.


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