Brazil and University of Texas Reach Deal on Zika Virus

WTOP/AP, 02/11/2016

Brazil is signing an agreement with the University of Texas to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, the country’s health minister said Thursday, adding the goal is for the vaccine to be ready for clinical testing within 12 months.

Marcelo Castro said at a news conference that the Brazilian government will invest $1.9 million in the research, which will be jointly conducted by the University of Texas and the Evandro Chagas Institute in the Amazonian city of Belem.

He said the Health Ministry also has reached vaccine partnerships with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is looking to work with pharmaceutical giant GSK.

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The Rot at the Heart of the Brazilian Economy

Christopher Sabatini – Foreign Policy, 02/10/2016

In late 2014, Brazil seemed on the verge of a meltdown. Its economy had grown a mere 0.1 percent that year, as its currency (the real) dropped like a stone and business confidence plummeted. In response, in November of that year Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff turned to a Chicago-trained technocrat — a common antidote among Latin American leaders. Domestic and international investors welcomed the appointment of Joaquim Levy, a former banker and fiscal hawk, to lead the finance ministry, but they acknowledged he would have his work cut out for him. If Levy hoped to enact the drastic fiscal cuts and structural reforms needed to fix the careening economy, he would have to first overcome the resistance of not only a fractious congress, but also many members of Rousseff’s leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and her cabinet.

Success would ultimately elude Levy. In December 2015, he quit, handing the ministry over to Nelson Barbosa, another well-respected economist. But Barbosa lacks Levy’s credibility among investors. And the task before him has only become more unenviable. He will have to push through his predecessor’s stalled reforms, while turning around an economy that suffered a GDP contraction of 3.7 percent in 2015, staving off potential debt crisisstabilizing the real, and avoiding what analysts predict could become Brazil’s worst crisis since 1901.

The first step to fixing Brazil’s crisis will have to involve recognizing that the rot goes much deeper than it might seem. Brazil’s troubles began with the downturn in the global commodity markets, which once bolstered the country. But the roots of the malaise trace much farther, to a historically autarkic economic model, a political system hobbled and corrupted by party factionalism and localism, and a constitutional carnaval of guarantees for social rights and payouts.

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As Zika Spreads, an Unexpeceted Winner in Brazil’s Mosquito War

Anna Edgerton – Bloomberg Business, 02/10/2016

Zika is a rarity in Brazil: a crisis that isn’t widely blamed on Dilma Rousseff’s government. And a mobilization against mosquitoes may even help the president climb out of a political hole.

In the northeastern town of Limoeiro, corruption scandals and a deepening recession have eroded support for Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. But the town in Pernambuco state is also at the center of Brazil’s viral epidemic. Glecya Aparecida Fernandes de Melo, a local lab technician whose whole family has fallen ill, says people there are signing up for government initiatives to combat the disease, rather than blaming politicians or organizing protests.

“We need to put aside this political bickering and be more united in the education campaign, or else this outbreak will get worse,” Fernandes said. “We have to take back our city from the mosquito.”

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Brazilian Airline suspends flights to Venezuela after failing to repatriate revenue

Samy Adghirni – Folha de S. Paulo, 02/10/16

After months of fruitless negotiations with the Venezuelan government over revenues of R$351 million (US $90.3 million) which are being held in Venezuela, the Brazilian airline Gol has decided to suspend its service between São Paulo and Caracas. The route has been running since 2007.

The problem derives from the complex exchange rate system in Venezuela, where the government operates various different rates.Gol had already reduced flight frequency from 28 a week to just two, since 2014. However, the impasse with Venezuela, along with the recession in Brazil, has led the company to follow the example of other airlines such as Air Canada and Alitalia and suspend its operations in Venezuela.

The problem derives from the complex exchange rate system in Venezuela, where the government operates various different rates.

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Study in Brazil links Zika virus to eye damage in babies

Catherine Saint Louis – The New York Times, 02/09/16

Infants infected with the Zika virus may be born not only with unusually small heads, but also with eye abnormalities that threaten vision, researchers reported on Tuesday in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

The study described damage to the retina or optic nerve in 10 of 29 newborns examined at Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil. All the infants were presumed to have been infected with the Zika virus and had small heads, a condition called microcephaly. Other causes of the defect, like infection with rubella or toxoplasmosis, were ruled out.

Seven out of the 10 newborns had defects in both eyes, while three infants had damage in a single eye. The most common problems were black speckled lesions in the back of the eye, large areas of tissue damage in the retina itself, or damage in the layer of blood vessels and tissue below the retina.

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Zika Virus: Survey Shows Many Latin Americans Lack Faith in Handling of Crisis

Jessica Glenza – The Guardian, 02/09/2016

Many Latin Americans doubt that public health officials in their countries can contain the Zika virus, but nevertheless said they find it reasonable to follow official advice and delay having children, a new study has shown.

The virus, which has spread rapidly through the Americas, has been linked to a rise in microcephaly in Brazil, a debilitating birth defect where children are born with abnormally small heads. Last week the World Health Organisation declared the wave of birth defects a public health emergency of international concern, but, other than that it is carried by mosquitoes, there is little scientific knowledge about Zika.

The study, provided exclusively to the Guardian by the data analysis firm RIWI Corporation, found that not only did some Latin Americans lack confidence in their governments’ response to the virus, but many were unsure how it is spread.

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Brazilian Studies Aim to Unravel Zika’s Link to Birth Defect

Julie Steenhuysen – Reuters, 02/09/2016

At Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil, Dr. Antonio Almeida and a team of specialists are closely following two groups of women: Those who deliver babies with abnormally small heads and those who deliver apparently normal babies.

The hospital is one of three in this city on Brazil’s eastern coast where investigators are studying the most urgent question of the Zika outbreak: Is the virus causing a spike in birth defects, and, if so, how great is the risk?

The answer will help shape the response to the rapid spread of Zika throughout the Americas. Concerns over the potential link to microcephaly have prompted a U.S. alert advising pregnant women against travel to 31 countries and territories with outbreaks.

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