Brazil to make birth control cheaper and more available

Published May 29, 2007

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Just weeks after Pope Benedict XVI denounced government-backed contraception in a visit to Brazil, the president presented a program Monday to provide cheap birth control pills at 10, 000 drugstores across the country.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the plan will give poor Brazilians "the same right that the wealthy have to plan the number of children they want."

Brazil already hands out free condoms and birth control pills at government-run pharmacies. But many poor people in Latin America's largest country don't go to those pharmacies, so Silva's administration decided to offer the pills at drastically reduced prices at private drugstores, said Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao.

The price for a year's supply of birth control pills under the new program would be $2.40, and anyone - rich or poor - can buy the pills by simply showing a government-issued identification card that almost all Brazilians carry.

The number of outlets selling the pills will start at 3, 500 and is expected to rise to 10, 000 by the end of this year. When the $51-million program is fully under way, the government expects to be handing out 50-million packages of birth control pills each year.

Each government-subsidized package - with enough pills to last a month - will cost 20 cents. They now retail for $2.56 to $25.60.

The Health Ministry said it does not plan to subsidize condoms at private drugstores, but Brazil already distributes 254-million free condoms a year.

Temporao also said the government plans to increase the number of free vasectomies performed at state hospitals.