Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro pledged on Thursday to reduce the number of penis amputations in Brazil, describing the current figures as “ridiculous” and “sad.”
Speaking to reporters in Brasilia outside the Education Ministry, Bolsonaro expressed shock at the reported 1,000 penis amputations that take place across Brazil every year due to lack of basic hygiene.
“In Brazil, we have 1,000 penis amputations a year due to a lack of water and soap,” he said. “We have to find a way out of the bottom of the hole, helping these people by raising awareness, really showing what they have to do, which is good for them, is good for their future, and to avoid getting to that point that is ridiculous, sad for us, that amount of amputations that we have a year.”
Bolsonaro did not specify a source of the figure, although a spokesperson for the Brazilian Urology Society later confirmed it is based on official data. Penis amputations are a serious procedure often used to treat incurable cancers, as well as infections and HIV complications.
Although there is little data about the global prevalence of such amputations, they are most commonly caused by penis cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, genital hygiene is “perhaps the most important factor in preventing penile cancer in uncircumcised men.”
“Penis cancer is a rare disease that affects just one in 100,000 men in North America and Europe, according to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,” notes Daily Mail. “Treatment depends on the size of the affected area and the rate the tumor has spread. Surgery is one of the main treatment options, and involves removing the cancerous cells and possibly some of the surrounding tissue.”
Bolsonaro’s government has inherited a significantly weakened healthcare system after nearly two decades of socialist governments – first under imprisoned former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and then under impeached successor Dilma Rousseff. Access to healthcare in Brazil’s more rural and impoverished areas can be difficult to attain. Rousseff’s solution was a program called Mais Médicos (“More Doctors”) in which Brasilia imported thousands of slave doctors from Cuba.
Cuba’s medical system brings in an estimated $11 billion a year through diplomacy with friendly states that pay Havana directly for the doctors’ service. The communist regime then failed to send the salaries to the doctors, instead paying a living “stipend” for food and shelter that many doctors say does not cover their basic needs. Doctors and dissidents regularly refer to the system as slavery, while some have compared it to “forced prostitution.”
Following Rousseff’s impeachment, over 100 Cuban doctors sued the Brazilian government for their fair salaries. The government blocked the lawsuit.
Bolsonaro, taking office in January, made cutting ties with the Cuban regime a priority. Bolsonaro demanded that Cuba pay full salaries to the doctors and give them proper medical training, which Cuba often fails to do. The Cuban regime immediately pulled the doctors from Brazil, describing his remarks as “threatening” and “unacceptable.” Many doctors chose to accept Bolsonaro’s offer of political asylum – banning them from Cuba for eight years– and the Brazilian Health Ministry announced they had found most of their replacements for the doctors who left in under a week.