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Brazil  has a population of 200 million. Average life expectancy is 74. (1)

Brazil has a community-based system of primary care, known as the Family Health Strategy (FHS).  Introduced on a small scale in the 1990’s, by 2014 it encompassed 62% of the population. FHS provision is handled by teams consisting of a family physician, a nurse, a nurse assistant, and four to six community health agents. Each team has primary care responsibility for up to 1,000 households, including some disease prevention. Each community agent is responsible for approximately 150 households and lives in the area. The agent visits every household at least once per month, checking for signs of ill-health and keeps track of appointments. As such the concept has proven effective in increasing coverage and utilisation of health care, especially among lower socioeconomic and rural populations. (2) Secondary and tertiary care is provided by a mix of public and private providers, with private providers both being subcontracted by the state system and available through out-of-pocket spending. (3)

COPD burden and management 

COPD prevalence is 4,242 per 100,000. (4)  It accounts for about 2% of all morbidity in Brazil, measured in DALYs (disease adjusted life-years). Compared to the other partner countries, smoking is responsible for a high amount of COPD burden, with occupational exposure and outdoor air particulates coming in second. (4)

COPD is generally diagnosed and treated by pulmonologists in hospital. Patients either get referred through primary care, or seek hospital care from the start. Spirometry with reversibility testing is the adopted standard of diagnosis, and is usually performed by trained technicians at public health facilities to where the patients are referred by pulmonologists. There is usually one unit performing spirometry per administrative area (e.g. city). Pulmonologists also hold exclusive right to prescribe COPD inhalers such as LABA and ICS, as well as home oxygen and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Whilst the role of diagnosing COPD is thus put on secondary care, general practitioners maintain close contact with the patient and are generally responsible for long term continuity. They also refer patients to smoking-cessation CBT and prescribe nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). 

GBD 2016. Global Burden of Disease Study 2016.

  1. World Health Organization(2015) Brazil: WHO statistical profile. World Health Organization.
  2. Macinko, J., & Harris, M. J. (2015) Brazil's family health strategy—delivering community-based primary care in a universal health system. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(23), 2177-2181.
  3. Paim, J., Travassos, C., Almeida, C., Bahia, L., & Macinko, J. (2011) The Brazilian health system: history, advances, and challenges. The Lancet, 377(9779), 1778-1797
  4. Global Burden of Disease Study (2016)

Principcal Investigators: Rafael Stelmach and Sonia Maria Martins


Breathe Well study

Summary research question

What are the most cost effective screening strategies for identifying undiagnosed COPD in Brazil, amongst patients (≥40 years) with systemic arterial hypertension?

Study design

Cross sectional (screening test accuracy)

Progress update

Ethical approval for the study has been granted and it has been registered on ISRTCN. The contract with the University of Birmingham has been signed. Nine Basic Health Units (BHUs) that will participate in the study have been identified. Each of these BHU will have 120 patients in the study, making 1,080 in total.  Equipment required has been distributed to the BHUs.  Training in the study procedures including spirometry has been undertaken by staff in each BHU.  The project began in January 2019. By the end of March 2019, 77 patients had been recruited.  

Evaluation of patients at   UBS Parque São Bernardo, Vila Marchi as part of the piloting of the study


This research was commissioned funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) NIHR Global Health Research Group on Global COPD in Primary Care global group on global COPD in primary care, University of Birmingham, (project reference: 16/137/95) using UK aid from the UK GovernmentUK Government to support global health research. The views expressed in this publication website are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the UK Department of Health of Health and Social CareSocial Care.