Bringing Health and Wellness to Vulnerable Communities in Sao Paulo

To help improve the health and wellness of homeless people living in São Paulo, Brazil, Professor Mário Vicente Guimarães. founded Medicos de Mundo, a non-profit organization that provides multidisciplinary care to people living in vulnerable situations. With the support of Professor Elaine Peixoto, each month student volunteers from Universidade Anhembi Morumbi (UAM) head onto the streets to provide much needed services to this often overlooked population.

Professor Mário Vicente Guimarães, faculty member at UAM, was inspired to find a way to help homeless people after noticing the hardships they faced during his daily subway commute to work. In 2015, he started founded Medicos de Mundo, and began the Medicos de Rua project, an initiative modeled after a Street Medicine project he worked on while completing his master’s degree in Boston, USA. Through Medicos de Rua, he has been able to leverage his knowledge as a neurologist and faculty position at UAM to create positive impact in the community.

After enlisting fellow faculty member Professor Elaine Peixoto, the two began to develop a strategy to bring care directly to the people, from a centralized location that patients could easily access. They encouraged students to join and began going to the streets of São Paulo to perform health screens and medical check-ups free of charge.

To date, the Medicos de Rua team has treated close to 5,800 people with the help of 40 students, many faculty members, and several volunteer professionals. Once a month, the team descends onto the streets of São Paulo where they provide treatment for different conditions including infections, dermatitis, dermatoses, hypertension, and diabetes, in many cases handing out much needed medications. For cases requiring more in-depth treatment options, patients are referred to the Integrated Health Center at UAM, coordinated by Professor Elaine, where students provide treatment free of charge. For the most serious cases, patients are referred to public hospitals.

For Mário and Elaine, giving the UAM students this type of opportunity is essential to their development. Medicos da Rua allows them to gain real world experience and learn about the human side of their chosen profession, as well as the importance of using their skills to serve the common good.

“Beyond the medical aspect of identifying symptoms and treatment, there is the element of empathy when talking to the patient,” says Elaine. “Delivering diagnoses face-to-face to vulnerable patients in a clear and respectful way is a very difficult skill to teach and replicate in a conventional classroom. If we give students the opportunity to learn this in a real situation, they become better at their job and ultimately become better citizens.”

While the core of Medicos de Rua has been general healthcare, the initiative has been expanding its services. Today, it offers a service to track the evolution of young children patients for one year after they begin treatment. The team also provides veterinarian services to help street animals. This has become an important element of the program because it is common for the homeless population to have pets, and treating these animals before they spread diseases has shown to be an effective preventive measure. Finally, the team includes lawyers and law students to provide much needed legal services to patients.

Regardless of the service provided, the team places a special emphasis on creating a welcoming and safe atmosphere to make patients feel comfortable. “When you go to other places for medical attention there is no warmth, they want to see you and get it over with quickly,” said Ionice Palma Santos, a patient to a recent clinic. “Here we receive empathy and attention, and we are very happy with the care given.”

The Medicos de Rua initiative has been featured by various news publications and specials in Brazil because of its impact. Due to its popularity, the team is interested in expanding to offer similar services at other Laureate Universities in Brazil. “We are very proud of the work Professor Mário, Professor Elaine, and the others involved are doing to create a healthier and more prosperous Brazil,” says Jose Roberto Loureiro, CEO of Laureate Brazil. “This is an incredible example of how our staff and faculty are preparing students to not only be successful in their chosen careers, but to become leaders that are making a real difference in our communities.”

Q&A With Medicos de Rua

  1. What does being Here for Good mean to you?
    Professor Mário:  Here for Good means helping other who are in a vulnerable situation, and for me that means helping individuals who have illnesses. And winning the Here for Good award is recognition of the wonderful impact Medicos de Rua is having on our community, recognition of us being Here for Good.
    Professor Elaine: To me Here for good means being and doing good for others, especially for those who need it the most.
  2. How has UAM helped deepen and accelerate the impact you’re having in the world?
    Professor Mário: UAM has helped us encourage students to participate and support the initiative, especially in its Integrated Health Center. It has also given us the opportunity to bring together the best teachers and health professionals, and to pass on our knowledge to our students.
    Professor Elaine: UAM has helped me to become a teacher, enlarge my circle of friends, and given me opportunities to help others with an interprofessional team.
  3. There are 65k+ staff and faculty across the Laureate network, how does it feel to be selected as the winner of this important award?
    Professor Mário: This recognition helps demonstrate the real importance of this initiative for UAM, our community, and especially to our country. I believe that this can help us expand our achievements to more people in the community.
    Professor Elaine: By winning this award I feel very happy and recognized; however, my greatest joy was to see the positive impact that we had with such a noble project. We are getting more donations and making a bigger team to help the homeless, for me this is priceless.
  4. What is your message to students across the Laureate network?
    Professor Mário: Do your best and use your unique skills and the opportunities provided to you to help change the world through love.
    Professor Elaine: Dear students, enjoy what the university has for you, participate in social projects, see people with freedom of judgment and open heart to help them.
  5. What is your message to other faculty/staff across the Laureate network
    Professor Mário: Be the example to your students and colleagues to change the world through love.
    Professor Elaine: Dear teachers, We invite everyone to help us help those people who need it. We invite you to be part of this project, or start something similar at your institution. We can help you with the planning and implementation. We are a team, and together we can reduce the suffering to humans and animals alike.