Nobody is completely sure which mosquito spreads Zika in Brazil

Will Carless – Global Post, 04/06/2016

The World Health Organization’s fact sheet on the Zika virus contains a wealth of useful information about the mysterious disease that has spread across the Americas and is blamed for a surge in birth defects in Brazil.

 

One of its leading facts may sound pretty benign: Zika is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, mainly the Aedes aegypti species in tropical countries like this one.

There’s only one problem: It’s not actually a “fact” that this particular mosquito spreads Zika in Brazil.

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Zika epidemic uncovers Brazil’s hidden birth-defect problem

Alex Cuadros – Washington Post, 03/01/2016

As researchers race to establish a link between the Zika virus and a birth defect known as microcephaly, one of their biggest obstacles is the lack of reliable health data in Brazil, where the epidemic broke out there last year.

Since October, Brazil’s Health Ministry has received reports of about 5,600 suspected cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads. Many cases have been thrown out, and many more are still being investigated, but given that the country previously reported 150 such cases per year, the number would still seem to indicate a massive jump.

Many doctors, though, say that the jump is largely illusory — based on massive underreporting of microcephaly and other birth defects in Brazil. What’s more, this poor record-keeping reflects much larger public health problems here: poor prenatal care and woefully inadequate services for children with disabilities. Until the Zika epidemic, these issues were mostly swept under the rug.

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How schools in Brazil are teaching kids to eat their vegetables

Rhitu Chatterjee – PRI, 02/11/2016

On a hilly slope in São Paulo City, a group of sixth graders is busy at work. They’re armed with seeds, soil and a range of gardening tools. Upside-down soda bottles, filled with water, outline a series of rectangular garden plots. A boy named Felipy Pigato tells me they are preparing the soil for planting.

“Yesterday we mixed regular soil with coconut fiber,” he says. “The coconut fiber holds the seeds in the soil.”

Today, he says they will add in the compost. As the students dig, they pull back chunks of dirt, creating shallow pits, where earthworms wriggle in the freshly dug soil.

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The ENEM: a giant bottleneck for Brazil

Marcelo Knobel – Inside Higher Ed, 10/31/2015

This time of the year is critical for millions of students all over Brazil. The entrance examinations season for higher education starts with the National High School Examination (ENEM), organized by the Ministry of Education.

The ENEM was originally introduced to assess the quality of secondary-level education in the country, but it has evolved to a content test now used for other purposes. These include being used as an admissions test to the main federal universities and other public institutions, as a strong influence on the distribution of financial support to students, and as a requirement for fellowships and programs such as the Science Without Borders program.

There are almost 8 million students enrolled for this year’s exam, who are competing for approximately 250 thousand places in the federal higher education system, the so-called Unified Selection System (SISU). This examination is given simultaneously throughout the whole country, in the old style of printed examination copies requiring hand-written responses; this presents many logistical challenges and represents an enormous cost. Furthermore, the concept of the exam itself has proven detrimental to secondary education, as brilliantly discussed by Simon Schwartzman in a recent blog post.

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Brazil’s science sector undergoes worst crisis in 20 years

Herton Escobar – O Estado de S. Paulo, 8/30/2015

With no federal funds, agencies cancel notices and delay payment of projects

The economic crisis that is troubling Brazil has not only caused fiscal adjustments, but has also caused cuts to the budgets of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and to the Ministry of Education (MEC), of 25% and 9%, respectively.

The sector also suffers with the losses of oil royalties and with the plunder of resources reserved for research, which were used as payment for scholarships of the Brazilian program “Science Without Borders” [Ciencia Sem Fronteiras]. In 2014 alone, the program drained R$2.5 billion out of the National Development Fund for Science and Technology (FNDCT).

The atmosphere is the worst it’s been in the past 20 years, according to the president of the Brazilian Society for Science Progress, Helena Nader. Without cash in stock, funding agencies are cancelling notices and delaying payment of thousands of projects.

The cause of the problem lies within the FNDCT, a huge sectorial funds portfolio, which is the main funding resource in the country designed for research. With the 2014 changes in oil royalties’ distribution, the pre-salt resources that nourished the Sectorial Fund for Petroleum (CT-Petro) began to flow to the Social Fund, which is not a part of FNDCT and is not dedicated to science. With this, the amount collected by CT-Petro fell from R$1.4 billion in 2013 to R$140 million in 2014 – and probably won’t even reach R$30 million this year.

FNDCT’s total amount collected therefore also fell from R$4.5 billion in 2013 to R$3.2 billion in 2014; and over R$1 billion of this amount was reserved for the “Science without Borders” program. This scenario is aggravated by the appreciation of the dollar against the Brazilian real, and by recession, which reduce tax collections and impact the budget of foundations that support research.

The National Counsel for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)’s budget this year foresees a transfer of R$1,22 billion from FNDCT, but only one fourth of this (R$330 million) was received thus far. The Counsel is delaying notice payments approved last year and cancelling or postponing new openings. Only six notices were opened this year, compared to 51 in 2014 and 91 in 2013.

Many scientists are waiting for payments and financing for their approved projects. They remain in line, but having to pay these researches out of their own pockets. Thus, “the priority right now is to pay what is owed before launching new things,” says Olivia, former president of CNPq.

In the academic sphere, in order to refrain from canceling scholarships, a department of the MEC had to cut 100% of capital resources and 75% of the cost of funds for post-grad programs across the country. “We had to adjust to our new reality,” says the director of the Programs and Scholarships of the MEC, Marcio de Castro Silva.

Read article in Portuguese here

Brazil’s Amazon city of Manaus sees surge in violence

BBC News, 7/21/2015

They began after a police officer was shot dead outside a bank. Several killings happened at almost exactly the same time, suggesting co-ordination.

Officials are investigating whether they may be part of a drug gang war or the result of police officers avenging the death of their colleague.There are normally between two and three murders a day in the city.

The nature of the shootings has raised suspicions of police involvement.Local officials say that another possible explanation could be local drug gangs settling scores.

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Bertelsmann sets up Brazil fund in education push

Harro ten Wolde and Georgina Prodhan – Reuters, 7/16/2015

German media company Bertelsmann is putting up as much as 100 million euros ($109 million) to set up a fund to invest in education companies in Brazil, it said on Thursday.

Bertelsmann wants to make education a third pillar of its business alongside media and services, aiming to grab a billion-euro slice of the fragmented $5.5 trillion global market in which the biggest single player is Britain’s Pearson .

Europe’s largest media group, which controls broadcaster RTL and book publisher Penguin Random House, said it would take nearly 40 percent in the fund with a target endowment of 800 million Brazilian real ($255 million).

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