Free diabetes and blood pressure drugs for Brazilians

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, 3 February 2011 President Rousseff says public health is one of her top priorities

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Brazil is to provide free medicines for everyone suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes.

The drugs will be distributed through a nationwide network of budget pharmacies, where many medicines are already heavily subsidised.

President Dilma Rousseff said the measure was part of her campaign to end extreme poverty in Brazil.

About 33 million Brazilians have high blood pressure, and more than seven million have diabetes.

The free medicines will be available to all Brazilians who have a doctor's prescription, but the authorities say they expect the offer to be taken up mainly by poorer people who use the public health system.

They will be distributed through 15,000 chemist shops that belong to the "Popular Pharmacies" network, where many drugs are already sold at a 90% discount.

Brazil's Health Minister, Alexandre Padilha, said high blood pressure and diabetes caused 34% of deaths in Brazil in 2009.

President Rousseff added that the poorest sectors of Brazilian society spent an estimated 12% of their incomes on medicines.

Since 1996 Brazil has provided free anti-retroviral drugs to patients with HIV/Aids, an approach that has been widely praised.

President Rousseff, who took office on 1 January, has promised to increase investment in Brazil's public health system.

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