A fundamental plank of the health sector reforms in Brazil is the democratization of health services by exercising social control upon the health system. A series of institutional mechanisms for social participation in the health services were designed. This paper analyses people's knowledge and experiences with institutional direct mechanisms (Municipal Health Council, Health Conferences, Disque Saúde and health ombudsman) and an indirect mechanism (PROCON). A questionnaire survey to a sample of 1590 health services users was carried out, in two municipalities of Pernambuco. Around half of the interviewed population declared themselves aware of the existence of Disque Saúde, suggestions boxes and the Municipal Health Council. The other direct mechanisms were less well known and the PROCON was known by the majority of the interviewees (80%). The functions of any mechanism, except for PROCON, were often inaccurately and vaguely defined. The take-up rate did not exceed 5%. These results seem to indicate that some progress was made, but the challenge of transforming legal gains into policy practices continues to remain, beginning with improving the provision of information to the population.
Social participation in health policies; Participation mechanisms; Information levels; Utilization of participation mechanisms; Brazil; Latin America