May 27, 2024
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SUS in Focus: How Ana Petta and Helena Petta are Helping Change the Perception of Public Health in Brazil

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Image commercially licensed from: Unsplash


“The teams in UBS (Basic Health Units) across the country took care of and vaccinated people, despite enormous challenges. This season of Unidade Básica is a tribute to them,” Ana Petta stated.

Ana Petta is an actress, filmmaker, and the mother of Maria and Pedro. She is a creative woman who closely observes the world around her and has the power to turn these observations into impactful narratives.

With a background in performing arts from USP (University of São Paulo) and solid experience in theater companies in São Paulo, Ana forged a path in which collaboration and collective work shaped her creative vision. This intensive theatrical experience, where actors are also the authors of the works, served as a strong foundation for her future work in audiovisual production.

It was during a conversation with her sister, Helena Petta (an infectious disease specialist and filmmaker), that the idea arose to fill a gap in Brazilian television: the absence of a medical series. Taking on the seemingly impossible challenge, they decided to set the series in a Basic Health Unit (UBS*), creating a project that eventually became the series “Unidade Básica.” A UBS, in the Brazilian context, is a primary healthcare facility that provides essential medical and health care to the local population in a specific geographic area. They play a critical role in promoting health and preventing diseases.

In 2016, the first season was launched, and to their surprise, the series deeply resonated with professionals in the Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS**), the country’s public healthcare system. This engagement, shaped by identification with the context of SUS and a genuine connection, highlighted the importance of the narrative and revealed dissatisfaction with the representation of healthcare in the media.

At that time, the prevailing view in Brazil about SUS was far from positive, but Ana and Helena had a clear goal: to discuss and celebrate SUS, despite its challenges, and acknowledge the unwavering dedication of healthcare professionals who sustain the system in UBS. The series “Unidade Básica” offered a broad perspective on healthcare, and its impact was so profound that it inspired a shift in the aspirations of many medical students, directing them towards family and community medicine. The series addressed crucial women’s health issues, and being created by women like Ana and Helena, it resonated even more with the audience. In addition to being the creator of the series, Ana also plays her role as an actress, portraying Dr. Laura: a highly competent professional, committed to the well-being of patients, and deeply involved in her work, evolving with each season. Her work as an actress, director, and producer reflects her ability to give voice to authentic and emotional stories, contributing to diverse and inspiring representation in the media.

Portraying the COVID-19 Pandemic in Brazil

Some of Ana and Helena’s undeniable talent can be vividly appreciated in their recent projects, such as the documentary “Quando Falta o Ar” (also created by the sisters), which not only won the prestigious “É Tudo Verdade” festival but was also preselected for the Oscars—an clear example of their commitment to telling authentic and urgent stories.

With this film, Ana, Helena, and their team gave voice to healthcare professionals and the challenges they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an emotional window into a critical moment in history.

Furthermore, the Brazilian series “Unidade Básica,” whose third season has just premiered on Universal TV, is another testament to the sisters’ ability to address complex and sensitive narratives, delving deeply into the lives of healthcare professionals and patients.

“When the pandemic began, I started talking to colleagues on the front lines, and the stories were very shocking. This led us to produce the documentary ‘Quando Falta o Ar,’ and much of this material made its way into the script of this third season, which is entirely based on real cases,” explains Helena. From this experience, the script for the new season was created, signed by her, Cannito, and Marcos Takeda.

The third season of the series “Unidade Básica” promises to be a deep and impactful dive into the reality of the Brazilian healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We aim to replicate in this new season how the health crisis affected primary healthcare and impacted the lives of professionals and the population served by SUS. We show how difficult the work of these professionals was at the beginning of the pandemic, how they faced adversity like true warriors to defend their communities’ population,” explains Ana Petta.

With the narrative now centered on the context of the global health crisis, the series will take us up close to UBS healthcare professionals as they face unprecedented challenges, highlighting their heroic struggles and tireless dedication in the midst of a critical situation. By addressing the pandemic, the series not only offers a sensitive perspective on the difficulties faced by healthcare workers but also sheds light on the resilience and humanity that emerge in times of crisis.

This season promises to be a powerful and moving exploration of the crucial role played by UBSs on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 in Brazil. The new episodes bring Dr. Paulo (Caco Ciocler) back to UBS Cecília Donnangelo after a forced leave at the end of the second season. Now, he will need to face the challenges of the pandemic context while dealing with his tumultuous relationship with Dr. Laura, who is even more immersed in her work.

“It is an honor to represent and tell, in fiction, the story of SUS professionals who were on the front lines during the pandemic. The teams in Basic Health Units across the country took care of and vaccinated people, despite enormous difficulties. This season is a tribute to them,” concludes Ana.

Through their remarkable ability to turn observations into impactful narratives, Ana Petta and her creative collaboration with her sister, Helena Petta, are shaping not only how Brazilians view healthcare and SUS but also inspiring future generations to make a difference in the medical field and female representation in the entertainment industry. Their achievements exemplify the power of audiovisual media to provoke meaningful reflections and real societal changes.

The cast also includes Carlota Joaquina (from “3%”) as Nurse Beth and Vinicius de Oliveira (from “Central do Brasil”) as Health Agent Malaquias. Three other characters will be introduced: Dr. Mariano (Marat Descartes, from “Rotas do Ódio”), the new unit manager sent by the Health Department; Dr. Waldir (Rodrigo dos Santos, from “Onde Está Meu Coração?”), a doctor who works in the Mobile Emergency Care Service (SAMU) and comes to UBS to retrieve critically ill patients; and Gabi (Fernanda Marques, from “Um Lugar ao Sol”), a hypochondriac intern who joins the UBS team.

The series is directed by Suzy Milstein, who also directs some episodes, as well as Ciocler and Cannito. The production is by Caio Gullane, Fabiano Gullane, and André Novis.

The third season of “Unidade Básica” is a Gullane production, in co-production with NBCUniversal International Distribution, sponsored by NBCUniversal International Networks, Inspirali, UniEduK, Conselho Brasileiro de Oftalmologia (CBO), Sociedade Brasileira de Diabetes (SBD), and with support from the National Cinema Agency, ANCINE.

In the Brazilian context, UBS stands for “Unidade Básica de Saúde,” which is a fundamental part of the Brazilian public healthcare system known as the Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS). It is a vital component of Brazil’s public healthcare system, aiming to make healthcare services accessible to all citizens, regardless of their income or social status.

SUS stands for “Sistema Único de Saúde,” which is the public healthcare system of Brazil. It is one of the largest public healthcare systems in the world and plays a crucial role in providing healthcare services to the Brazilian population.

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