RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil has unveiled new rules aimed at stemming the South American nation's "epidemic of cesareans" and promoting natural births among private health care providers.
Health Minister Arthur Chioro called Brazil's obsession with cesareans, which account for more than eight out of 10 births handled by private health providers, a "public health problem."
Under the requirements announced on Tuesday, health insurance companies will have to provide users with information about the percentage of cesareans performed by individual doctors and hospitals. Failure to provide the statistics in 15 days will result in hefty fines.
Currently, 84 percent of births covered by private health plans are cesareans, compared with 40 percent of total births in Brazil's public hospitals, according to the statement. In the United States, just over 32 percent of all births are cesareans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"The epidemic of cesareans we see today in this country is unacceptable and there is no other way to treat it than as a public health problem," the statement quoted Chioro as saying. "What's normal are normal births."
The statement said cesareans multiply by 120 percent the risk of respiratory illnesses among infants and triple the risk of maternal mortality during childbirth.
Still, despite the risks, cesareans are widely seen in this body-conscious culture as easier, more comfortable and less detrimental to mothers' bodies. Physicians often favor them for their predictability and ease of scheduling.
Chioro denounced that logic, saying, "We cannot accept that cesareans be performed as a result of buying power or convenience."
The new rules, which take force in six months, will affect the nearly 24 million Brazilian women who have private health plans that cover obstetric services.