Brazil's health ministry promised Thursday to hire 2,500 extra medical staff in the state of Rio de Janeiro amid a funding crisis that has left hospitals understaffed and lacking essential equipment.
Alberto Beltrame, a senior health ministry official assigned to help the state, held a crisis meeting with health authorities where an agreement was made to boost staff and equipment in public hospitals across the Rio de Janeiro state.
Beltrame told reporters afterwards that federal health services would hire some 2,493 medical personnel, including 693 doctors and 605 nurses, in the next 20 days. The new staff will be contracted for six months, but their terms can be extended to two years.
The ministry said the measure would cost US$32.3 million per year in 2016 and 2017.
"It's a significant increase, equivalent to opening a new hospital in Rio rapidly," Beltrame said.
The pledge comes one month after Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency after it ran out the funds to pay for health equipment, supplies and salaries.
Local reports said that during the state of emergency hospitals had to turn away patients due to a lack of supplies, while some displayed boards that warned that only people at risk of death would be helped.
Anjela Caldas, a local nurse, described the current funding issues as "the worst crisis" she has seen in her 32 years working in public hospitals in the region.
Brazil's health care problems are not limited to Rio de Janeiro. On Tuesday the government announced it was cutting the number of doses for vaccinations given by its public health service to treat human papillomavirus and pneumonia as the country looks to reduce health care costs. Although officials maintain that the changes won't reduce efficacy.
In the statement, the health ministry said the cost of maintaining the country's vaccination program had risen by 140 percent over the past five years.
Improving the funding of hospitals is not the only concern for authorities. With just 8 months before Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2016 Olympic Games, officials have conceded that a promise to treat 80 percent of sewage entering Guanabara Bay will not be achieved before the Aug. 5 opening ceremony.
Health experts have said risks to the public from contaminated water range from gastrointestinal diseases to hepatitis A.
VIDEO: Brazil: Congress Approves 2016 Budget