Eugênio Scanavino Netto
Fellow Since 1989
Projeto Saúde e Alegria
This description of Eugênio Scanavino Netto's work was prepared when Eugênio Scanavino Netto was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
Eugenio Scanavino Netto, a young physician works in the Amazon region promoting health and environmental education in isolated communities. He uses theater and his "Health and Happiness" circus to educate rural Brazilian citizens and good health and medical practices.
The New Idea
Physician Eugenio Scanavino opted for that language of the people to convey his "Health and Happiness" project to some of the poorest of Brazil's poor, the neglected people of the Amazon. Early in his practice in tropical medicine, as rural physician, Netto saw that treating the ill in a clinic only fed a disease-oriented view of medicine and health."Health in the Amazon is not a question of doctors and medicines. When I saw it did no good to infinitely treat vermin, it became clear that a preventive work is necessary where all participate with attitudes of health," Eugenio says.Among the very poor backwoods residents of the Amazon, preventive health care includes showing them in simple terms ways to use the most available resources to enhance health. Some plants and animals in the rainforest environment offer the very elements humans need for health. Some conditions can be easily cured through inexpensive home remedies. In both cases, health and sometimes life itself can depend on knowing what to do and how to use everyday elements in the environment."For me, for a child in the interior to die of diarrhea, a simple, curable and preventable disease, is a humiliating fact of the lack of respect and dignity of a society," Eugenio says. But he rather not waste time lamenting such injustices, but instead dedicate his time to resolving them.Scanavino takes his Health and Happiness circus to poor Amazon residents, spending a few days in each area. During the periodic visits, the multidisciplinary team performs circus and theater acts and puppet shows using popular characters to entertain and educate at the same time. Games help teach nutrition to children. The team gives mini-courses about health issues in which the residents themselves have expressed an interest.The team's work reinforces the idea that people live healthier, happier lives when they live in tune with the natural environment. It emphasizes the forest as a health resource."I look for pragmatism," Scanavino says, "the most effective measure for the most objective problems. For this we need to know how to comprehend the reality of each thing, without preconceived notions, to be able to transform it."
The Amazon is still a region of occupation. Many new residents know nothing about how to use the forest in sound, non-destructive ways. They are isolated and eke out an inadequate living. The people in the region are in desperate need of basic health and education programs that offer them an opportunity to find solutions to their own problems.
The traveling circus and related activities make a circuit among poor Amazon residents with the ultimate goal of motivating communities to continue the work through organizing on their own in such groups as mothers' or youth clubs. The first year of the four-year project already has been concluded. It resulted in a diagnosis, with residents' participation, of health in the region. The current two-year phase focuses on establishing specific health and environmental programs among the area's rural poor. The final year-long phase is to be dedicated to solidifying programs and transferring the ongoing work t the communities themselves. In this final phase, the project model also is to be extended to other communities.
Scanavino chose medicine because "it's the thing most connected to life and to man. I directed myself the social field because that's where I can really be useful and my work best utilized. It's within the Brazilian social picture that the great health emergency exists."During his medical residency in Rio de Janeiro, Scanavino noticed how little attention was given to hospital patients' healthy characteristics. He arranged for some geriatric patients to spend time with pediatric patients. He personally gave puppet shows and played games with patients who had few visitors. He rearranged hospital patients' environments to maximize social contacts or take advantage of patios and gardens. In all this, Scanavino noticed patients' conditions often improved by eliciting healthy responses from them.He chose tropical medicine and the Amazon in particular to interact more closely with the natural environment and to offer his technical knowledge where it is especially needed.