This doctor specializes in house calls

Vera Cordeiro’s work begins after a child is released from a Brazilian hospital

Andi McDaniel | November 2006 issue
Vera Cordeiro’s maternal instincts run deep—so deep they don’t stop with her own two children. As a physician and the founder of Saúde-Criança Renascer (“Children’s Health Reborn”), a citizens group providing health care to children in the most impoverished parts of Brazil, Cordeiro has taken care of a “family” of some 20,000—the number of people who have been helped since the program began in 1991.
Renascer, which has burgeoned to 16 institutions under the umbrella of the Children’s Health Network, began humbly in a horse stable at a public park in Rio de Janeiro. Cordeiro had been working as a general practitioner, treating children with chronic diseases like AIDS and cancer, and became preoccupied with the “vicious cycle of misery, hospitalization, re-hospitalization and then death” she saw with so many young patients in Brazil’s troubled health-care system.
“On average, the hospitals in Brazil are good,” she explains, “but the problem is what happens when children leave the hospital.” A child might be treated for pneumonia, for instance, only to return home to a leaky shack in one of Rio’s favelas (slums) and a single mom who has no money for food, let alone medication.
Cordeiro grew determined to continue caring for patients after they were released. With a dozen volunteers, a telephone and a portion of her own family’s income, she began offering medication, food and practical help to patients who were likely to end up back in the hospital.
“My colleagues thought I was crazy,” Cordeiro recalls. “They said, ‘You don’t have to do that—this is a government problem.’” But without some kind of complementary social services, Cordeiro believed, the hospital’s efforts were “like trying to keep ice frozen under a hot sun.”
Inevitably, Renascer’s resources began to run out, at which point Cordeiro sought help from the U.S.-based international philanthropic foundation Ashoka. She won a fellowship, which enabled the organization to become more firmly established. Today, the citizens group commands a budget of $1 million U.S. (790,000 euros), 140 volunteers and a staff of 37. Focusing on the neediest patients at the hospital, a multi-disciplinary team of psychologists, social assistants, nutritionists, lawyers and volunteers develops an action plan for each patient’s recovery after leaving the hospital, which includes anything from counselling or vocational training to roof repair.
While Renascer’s funds now come from a combination of private companies, individuals and awards, the organization relies heavily on volunteers, who typically come from rich parts of Brazil and are hungry to give meaning to their lives.
To Cordeiro, that makes perfect sense. Even in a society where the gap between rich and poor is great, no one is exempt from suffering. “There is no happiness for one person in this crazy world,” she explains. “Everybody is connected.”
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