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Survey shows how Brazilians see Fiocruz in twelve cities


Ricardo Valverde


As part of the celebrations of the 120th anniversary of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, the National Institute of Public Communication in Science and Technology (INCT-CPCT) has coordinated the survey How Brazilians see Fiocruz: a survey in 12 Brazilian cities. The goal was to analyze the perception the society has of the Foundation in the 12 Brazilian cities where it is present, in units, offices, or special projects: Manaus, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Recife, Campo Grande, Teresina, Brasília, Porto Velho, Petrópolis (RJ), Rio de Janeiro and Eusébio, in the metropolitan region of Fortaleza. Luisa Massarani, of INCT-CPCT and Fiocruz, was in charge of coordinating the survey.

The survey investigated the knowledge regarding the institution (spontaneous and stimulated), the comprehension of what Fiocruz is, its relevance, the performance of available services and image attributes related to cultural capital, information in health and political engagement of the interviewed subjects. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which took over the country when the fieldwork for the interviews was begun, a new battery of questions involving Covid-19 was included in the survey.

According to those interviewed, Fiocruz is spontaneously associated mainly to scientific research, analysis, studies on diseases, and development center for the cure. The Foundation was very well evaluated in three dimensions: promotion of public health and social development; research and production of scientific and technological knowledge; and credibility and social relevance.

The project consisted of a quantitative phase and two qualitative stages, which took place simultaneously. The quantitative phase used the survey technique applied by phone, in an online platform. 1,724 interviews were made. Of this number, 1,643 people had heard of Fiocruz and/or of at least one of the units presented in the familiarity with the institution filter. Only these subjects were then given the full questionnaire to answer. The level of trust is 95%, and the maximum margin of error estimated was of 2.8% (above or below) on the results found in the total of the sample. The questionnaires were applied between May 18 and June 10, 2020.

The qualitative phase was divided in two parts. The first part included 37 deep interviews with the population that resides near Fiocruz in three cities with different characteristics and actuations: Rio de Janeiro (home to the headquarters and of different technical-scientific units), Salvador (technical-scientific unit), and Porto Velho (technical office). Participants had different ages and professions and were interviewed via text message. The interviews were carried out between April 15 and June 19, 2020. The second part included 35 deep interviews with 6 governors and 5 state representatives of states where Fiocruz is present and 24 with members of the Superior Council of the Foundation and of the 120th Anniversary Honor Commission. In this case, the questions were sent and answered via e-mail, between March and May this year.

Among the sources most commonly used to obtain information were: television (73.7%), official health websites (68.8%), physicians (58.8%), and either physical or online newspapers (55.4%), as the main references pointed by interviewed subjects in their active search for information. Among those who habitually check information on Covid-19, virtual sources of information are very commonly used: 65.7% used institutional sites, especially those linked to scientific research in the field of health, as well as government agencies websites, such as that of the Ministry of Health. Physicians and healthcare professionals as a whole are also sources of information, as are medical and scientific journals and papers (10.1%). There are also those who check the veracity of their information on social media (4.1%).

In this moment in the middle of a pandemic, many display great trust and hope in scientists: 97.3% believe that science will find a cure. However, those who show this level of trust are divided when it comes to when the solution will be presented: 45.3% believe it will be “soon”, while 52% think it will take a while. Only 2.6% say they do not believe that scientists will find a solution for Covid-19.

According to the coordinators of the survey, these data provide important results on the population’s perception of Fiocruz. The Foundation is mentioned as the most often remembered public research institution in the field of health all over the country, in a spontaneous manner. Traditional media continues to be the main source of information on Fiocruz.

The survey has shown the importance of Fiocruz for society, as the institution is evaluated as a national heritage. Of those who were interviewed, 56.8% said the Foundation is the most important institution for the country, from among those they know. They also mentioned the relevance of Fiocruz for public health (producing vaccines and high-quality drugs), for scientific research (it is considered one of the country’s most important research institutions), and social relevance (expressed as the view that the institution is useful). Although still scoring very high, the survey shows the need to strengthen the association between scientific and technological activities carried out by Fiocruz, the Brazilian Public System of Health (in the Portuguese acronym SUS) and healthcare, once all of the institution’s activities focus on making universal access viable. Reflecting on the goal of the survey, to contribute with a vision of the future, the need to make Fiocruz more accessible to the public was outlined, through science dissemination and contact between scientists and the population.

According to the researchers, surveys such as this provide subsidies to reflect on some of the challenges from the strategic-institutional standpoint. Among them is the search for strategies that increase society’s perception of the relationship between research, scientific activities, technology and innovation and production with SUS demands; creation of strategies so that Fiocruz appears more permeable and accessible to the society; strengthening of the institution’s communication and research in health by its own scientists, who have lots of credibility with the society; and strengthening the society’s perception on the importance of science for development, employment, and income.

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