Don’t cry for me, I’m-in-Vita!

After completing the readings on healthcare reform, I couldn’t help but relate it back to an ethnography I read a few years back called Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment, by Joao Biehl. The book is about the trials and tribulations that the people in Vita suffer from and how they deal with social abandonment issues while making an effort to survive without sufficient medical attention needed to help them heal. Initially, Vita was a place created with the intentions of being a rehabilitation center, providing drug and alcohol addicted individuals with a second chance at life. Vita’s population gradually increased and soon became a place where the dominant society dumped individuals that seemed unfit to function with the “normal” society. They were stigmatized and viewed as outcasts to the rest of society. Beihl does a remarkable job documenting the daily struggles of people that were casted off into this asylum with the help of many of the inhabitants.

Located in Porte Alegre, Brazil, Vita is one of the many zones of “social abandonment” that has been a common entity throughout urban Brazil over the years. As a result of deinstitutionalization, many patients were released from official hospitals and clinics that provided primary healthcare and either sent back to their families to cope with their illness or to the asylum. Because social factors were putting pressure on the medical system to find an adequate medication to diagnose illness, patients were given the same type of medication regardless of their different symptoms. In Vita, everyone was considered the same whether one was suffering from a mental illness or heart disease therefore, society did not bother to differentiate.

In an effort to improve the healthcare system, the government has allowed the  “destruction” of those who are seen as hopeless or unfit individuals; further establishing inefficiencies in the medical and public health systems. Due to neo-liberalism, a cost and benefit relationship was implemented in Vita so that the government can profit from them.  People began to find ways to make money around other people’s abandonment. Everything that exists in Vita eventually became a form of profit and allowed for Vita to be looked at as a solution for people, who are not wanted by the rest of society, to live amongst themselves. Neo-liberalism forced the individual to pay for the treatment they need instead of the government funding for it. The burden was put on the individual to deal with the social problems further separating them from family and the rest of society. With the economy continuously profiting, people of Brazil were constantly misdiagnosed and given improper medications. Medical assistance as well as social acceptance is based on the hierarchy or social class.

The political system was interested in seeing a rise in economic growth therefore many profits were made in Vita over the years. But as Beihl states, “…one wonders what kind of political, economic, medical and social order could allow such a disposal of the Other, without indicting itself.”…


Beihl, J. (2005). Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment. University of California Press


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