Information and news on Brazil

Chagas Disease in BrazilMore than 1 billion people in developing countries are sick and require treatment for Neglected Tropical Diseases, or NTDs. These are infectious diseases that have very little attention and donor funding compared to diseases like malaria, HIV and tuberculosis. NTDs can have debilitating results such as malnutrition, blindness, weakening mental development and more. They also tend to go hand in hand with poverty, because less access to clean water and sanitation allows these diseases to thrive. One of these diseases, Chagas disease, also known as “the kissing bug disease,” exists in the areas of Brazil where poverty is prominent.

“NTDs are not prioritized in wealthier, developed countries because they do not experience the same living conditions that affected populations are in, said Jadie Moon, a representative from NGO De-Neglect. “Diseases like HIV and tuberculosis are more prevalent in developed countries and attract more attention. Additionally, the public tends to focus more on diseases that kill such as malaria. However, NTDs are more likely to disfigure and affect [the] daily lives of individuals.”

History of Chagas Disease in Brazil

Chagas disease exists in the Americas, mainly in rural areas of Latin America where poverty is prevalent. It was first reported in Brazil by Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas in 1909. A parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transferred from the waste of triatomine bugs, or kissing bugs, causes the disease. The disease can also be spread through food that has been contaminated by the bug’s feces, infected blood transfusions and organ donations. This disease affects 8 million people today, and 20,000 people die from it every year.

From 2001 to 2018, 5,184 cases of acute Chagas disease were found in Brazil. The rate of infection recorded in Brazil annually was “0.16 per 100,000 inhabitants.” Studies show a rapid increase in records of Chagas disease before 2005. Though there was a drop from 2005 to 2009, there was another increase in infections after 2009.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Chagas Disease

Though many NTDs are not considered life-threatening, the results of Chagas disease can be. The acute phase of the disease has minor symptoms. They include fever, swelling at the infection site, rash, nausea and enlargement of the liver or spleen. These symptoms will usually go away on their own, but if left untreated the disease can advance to the chronic phase.

The chronic phase is more serious and may occur 10 to 20 years after the infection. The parasites hide in the heart and digestive muscles, leading to cardiac and digestive or neurological disorders. Chronic symptoms include an irregular heartbeat, esophagus enlargement, difficulty swallowing, an enlarged colon and heart failure.

Around 20 to 30% of individuals who are in the chronic phase of Chagas disease eventually develop clinical disease. Usually, the clinical disease that develops is cardiac. Chagas disease is often discovered in an individual years after the infection in late stages, and once established it can cause severe, even deadly cardiac and digestive disorders.

“Because of the commonly asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic acute phase of infection, Chagas disease is difficult to diagnose, and often leads to missing the best time frame of treatment,” said De-Neglect members Jesse Chen and Helen Lee.

Prevention and De-Neglecting Chagas Disease in Brazil

One of the key methods in protecting people from Chagas disease – like any other NTD – is prevention. Methods of prevention in areas that are high-risk include:

  • Using bed nets that have been soaked with insecticide
  • Avoid sleeping in a mud, thatch or adobe house
  • Making home improvements to prevent bug infestation
  • Screening pregnant mothers, blood donations and testing organ/tissue/cell donations (as an infected individual can spread the disease to a healthy individual that way)
  • Washing, checking and cooking food well so there is no bug feces

De-Neglect

One of the best ways of preventing Chagas disease in Brazil is educating the public that lives in high-risk areas. A social media concentrated NGO in California called De-Neglect has a mission of doing just that. The organization has been around since 2018, formed by a group of UC Berkeley students and alumni. De-Neglect’s mission is to raise awareness and education about NTDs like Chagas disease, and how they affect communities in poverty. De-Neglect works to accomplish this goal through research, educating the public in health and participating in “community-based mobilization.” Their members are in contact with individuals and organizations from around the world and use their media platforms to raise awareness for NTDs like Chagas that affect areas like the rural communities in Brazil.

“I know someone who passed away due to Chagas disease almost 3 years ago in Brazil,” said De-Neglect team member Paula Serpa. “It is suspected that my friend acquired the infection due to his poor living conditions and, while playing a pickup soccer game, he suffered a heart attack and passed away.”

Growing the Organization

De-Neglect Team member Jessica Tin recounts the feat it took to form De-Neglect and build their network of collaborators. They faced certain roadblocks about finding accurate and up-to-date info for some NTDs. “Recently, we reached our next milestone with the release of our “What is scabies?” video and a social media campaign for World NTD Day, said Tin. “This was our first major moment in getting our name and mission out to the NTDs community as well as to our personal circles, where most of our friends and family had never even heard of NTDs before. Seeing our impact has given us extra momentum to continue our mission by expanding our network and educating the community.”

Lessening the Impact of Chagas in the Future

“Given that NTDs are concentrated in developing, poverty-stricken countries, their management often takes up most of a person’s existing and potential wealth,” said De-Neglect Team Member Jessica Yescas. “By providing solutions, such as medication and accessibility to medical care — as well as raising awareness through education — the possibility of alleviating the perpetuation of poverty due to NTDs can become a reality.”

Those infected with Chagas disease in Brazil face additional challenges if they already struggle with poverty. If not provided reliable, affordable medication the results could cost them dearly. They can miss out on work and educational opportunities, pushing them further into poverty. Raising awareness for Chagas disease and other NTDs in areas impacted by poverty and putting them in the spotlight creates more opportunities to instill solutions, not allowing them to be neglected anymore.

Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Diamantes Na Cozinha
Joao Diamante, a Brazilian chef who trained in Paris under world-renowned chef Alain Duccard, decided to go back home to Rio de Janeiro, a large city in Brazil. In 2016, he began his social project Diamantes Na Cozinha (Diamonds in the Kitchen) in Rio de Janeiro. This project has received a lot of attention from national and international press due to its unique and philanthropic vision.

Who is Joao Diamante?

Diamante himself benefited from social programs in Bahia, Brazil when he was a teenager. His experiences eventually helped him become a chef overseas. Because of his belief in these youth programs, he decided to fund his own. Diamantes Na Cozinha creates cooking, nutrition and hospitality workshops for young people in vulnerable situations living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.

Diamante himself lost a dear friend due to the violence taking place in the favelas, and he believes that teenagers must receive protection from organized crime and drug addiction. Unfortunately, addiction and crime are all too common in these impoverished populations.

About the Workshops

Kids as young as 16 enroll in the courses through Diamantes Na Cozinha, resulting in them learning skills that can land them a job later on. But, the program is also to help kids find their purpose in life. It distracts them from the harsh realities of living in a favela. Through this, Diamante is not only helping individuals emerge from impoverished situations, but also propelling the Brazilian economy.

Diamante currently teaches various courses. Each course contains up to 25 students who can sign up free of charge. There is a wide variety of courses such as hospitality, high cuisine, food anthropology and cocktail-making. During training, students have the opportunity to serve at catering events. This serves not only as an opportunity for students to receive an evaluation but also as a means for them to start making an income. When training is over, Diamante selects his best students to work a the Na Minha Casa restaurant permanently.

Currently, the Diamantes Na Cozinha headquarters includes an archive with more than 200 volumes, a fully equipped kitchen and a media library. The project has gathered international attention, most notoriously in its feature in the Netflix food show “Feed Phil,” where the host visited Diamantes Na Cozinha and presented the foundation’s story. Through this and many other features, the project has gained momentum and donations from businesses and individuals alike.

“We use Gastronomy as a tool for social and professional transformation,” said Diamante. “We don’t just want good professionals, we want our students to evolve as human beings.”

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Brazil's Emerging Market
Brazil currently has the ninth-largest economy in the world. It has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.05 trillion which accounts for slightly more than 2.5% of the global GDP in 2020. Brazil would account for 2.5% of the world’s wealth if one measured it by all of the goods and services it exchanged in 2020. Thus, Brazil’s emerging market has become a reputable force on the world economic stage. It has now surpassed some developed economies in GDP. For example, Brazil’s economy is now larger than Italy’s, which accounted for 2.4% of global GDP in 2020. Several factors contribute to the success of Brazil’s emerging market: better international relations, the adaptation of technology and improved education. However, the most important element of an emerging market is a solid mix of domestic companies. Here are three Brazilian companies that have been driving the economy forward.

Eletrobras

Eletrobras is the number one supplier of electricity in Latin America. Additionally, it projects that it can be one of the top three clean energy suppliers for the entire world by 2030. Furthermore, Eletrobras differentiates itself from other energy companies by focusing on generating electricity through renewable methods. In fact, the company strives to ensure that less than 10% of electricity produced comes from sources that have high greenhouse gas emissions. Eletrobras utilizes hydropower and wind farms to create the vast majority of its electricity.

The company supplied about one-third of Brazil’s total energy in 2020. As a result, there was a reduction in reliance on foreign energy companies. In addition, it provided vast employment opportunities to Brazilians and residents of other Latin American countries.

Vale

Vale is a Brazilian mining company responsible for churning out more iron ore and nickel than any other mining company. Iron ore has multiple applications and is the raw ingredient for steel. One can find it in cars, trains, sinks, dishwashers and much more. Additionally, a battery’s fundamental material is nickel. It has a shiny appearance and is inexpensive. Therefore, many countries use it to make their currencies.

Vale now employs more than 100,000 workers ranging in countries from Canada to Indonesia. The company has been able to successfully push into other sectors including artificial intelligence and energy production.

Itau Unibanco

Itau Unibanco is Brazil’s largest bank in the private sector. The company’s headquarters are in Sao Paulo and it employs more than 90,000 people across nine countries. The government now owns the majority of the company’s equity because it is in the private sector. The primary shareholders are private institutions, corporations and individuals. As such, Itau Unibanco is a bank for everyday workers.

Furthermore, Itau Unibanco has a commitment to giving back to the community. The company invested more than $0.5 billion into education projects and improving transportation infrastructure in Brazil. It shows that people should not consider domestic companies that give back as charities, but rather as an investment in the people.

The Reason these Companies Matter

These companies are critical to Brazil’s emerging market for two major reasons. First, Brazil needs businesses that spark interest in countries abroad to make the leap from emerging markets to the developed economy. All three of these companies successfully accomplished this goal. As such, these companies are appealing to many nations. As a result, there is an inflow of non-domestic goods and services. This allows the economy to expand and raise the overall quality of life for everyone.

The second reason is that these companies provide employment opportunities to Brazilian citizens in diverse sectors. Brazil needs companies such as Eletrobras to provide electricity in an economic boom and a severe recession. In addition, Brazil needs Vale to produce steel. In the end, these companies create many opportunities for Brazilian citizens in many sectors.

If Brazil can navigate through the pandemic while keeping companies like Eletrobras, Vale and Itau Unibanco afloat, it has a fair shot at becoming a developed economy in the future.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Homelessness in Sao Paulo
Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has experienced devastating economic and human loss in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From his initial downplaying of the seriousness of the novel coronavirus and spreading of misinformation about treatments, Bolsonaro has now taken on an apathetic role in the crisis. His attitude persists in the midst of the country’s highest daily death toll counts and hospitalization rates. The failure of Bolsonaro’s government to lead the charge in Brazil’s COVID-19 response has created an urgent need for communities to step in. Community action is necessary to help deal with the growing homelessness in São Paulo and other major cities. Furthermore, many in Brazil’s middle class are at risk of falling into poverty due to COVID-19’s long-term effects on the economy. This includes layoffs, a lack of jobs and a lack of financial support from the government.

Rise in Homelessness

São Paulo, the largest city in Latin America, was already struggling with high rates of homelessness prior to COVID-19. In the four years leading up to the pandemic, São Paulo’s homeless population increased by 65%, totaling an estimated 24,000 people. Aid workers believe the true number is likely much higher. Many of the newly homeless during the pandemic were already living day-to-day in crowded favelas, while some previously had employment in middle-class jobs, such as teachers.

The protracted issue of homelessness in São Paulo has created much frustration. Violence has occurred as police have recently attempted to disperse large homeless settlements notorious for open-air drug use in central neighborhoods of the city. Wealthy citizens increasingly isolate themselves from issues of poverty in São Paulo. Meanwhile, the middle classes face increasing economic instability and coexisting with a growing homeless population.

Community Approaches

Community action has been a lifeline for São Paulo’s homeless population before and during the pandemic. Two common approaches local NGOs and community leaders are advocating for are Universal Basic Income (UBI) and housing. A law guaranteeing UBI in Brazil underwent signature during the presidency of Lula da Silva several years ago, but to date, the country has not put it into action.

The Gaspar Garcia Center of Human Rights

The Gaspar Garcia Center of Human Rights advocates for the right to decent housing in São Paulo. The center provides legal guidance for citizens in precarious living situations. It also has programs for job training to work in the formal sector. One program the center has created is a recycling collective, which has employed 150 formerly-homeless Brazilians. The center also raises awareness for the rights of informal workers and provides legal guidance.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has had a long-standing presence in the homeless communities of São Paulo. Father Júlio Lancellotti of the São Miguel Arcanjo parish has garnered media attention during the pandemic for distributing meals and hygiene products to over 400 homeless citizens on a daily basis. For his activism, he has been subject to death threats and harassment by some. This highlights the complexities of public opinion towards the homeless in São Paulo.

The Homeless Workers Movement

On the political side, an up-and-coming Socialist politician named Guilherme Boulos recently ran for mayor of São Paulo. Although he lost, expectations have determined that he will be a leftist challenger in wider Brazilian politics in the near future. Boulos is a leader of the Homeless Workers Movement, a group that demands housing for the city’s homeless population. The group takes over abandoned buildings in the city center. By doing so, it demonstrates its potential use for public housing in acts of civil disobedience. Boulos has support from the controversial but still widely popular former Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Conclusion

Homelessness was already an important issue in São Paulo prior to COVID-19, and it will remain one. Without more governmental assistance to community organizations, inequality and homelessness will continue to escalate. President Bolsonaro has shown a general lack of empathy for impoverished Brazilians. Instead, he chooses to exude strength and use harsh law enforcement tactics to address societal issues. Fortunately, community action in São Paulo has shown that many have not given up on trying to help vulnerable populations during these challenging times.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BrazilHuman rights in Brazil are under attack by the country’s own presidential administration. Having campaigned on his famous “anti-human-rights rhetoric,” President Jair Bolsonaro is now turning his words into concrete actions that affect millions of Brazilians. Activists in Brazil are not backing down, relentlessly fighting for the human rights of the Brazilian people.

Human Rights Concerns in Brazil

  • Bolstering of police impunity for use of illegal force
  • Government complicity with torture in detention facilities and the systematic disassembly of government monitoring programs tasked with preventing torture
  • Funding cuts to environmental protection programs, approval of new pesticides for use without proper monitoring of toxicity levels in rural communities, minimization of consequences for illegal logging and ignoring reports of increased deaths of forest defenders
  • Civil and property rights of indigenous people, quilombolas, women and LGBTQI communities
  • Limiting the independence of nongovernmental agencies and restricting access to government information and public records

Despite the wave of policy change threatening human rights in Brazil, there is an equally powerful movement rising to meet it; real people and organizations dedicated to the fight for all humans and their right to exist freely in a peaceful, healthy and safe country.

Damião Braga

At 54 years old, Damião Braga is an experienced activist. He is the leader of Pedra do Sal, a community of African slave descendants in Rio de Janeiro called quilombolas. For 30 years, Braga has been in a judicial struggle over land in a historical part of Rio because he believes it should belong to his people whose ancestors arrived there as slaves.

This land is currently owned by the state and claimed by the Catholic Church, two formidable opponents. Braga says granting quilombolas the property rights is an essential step in making reparations for these descendants of slaves. Because slaves freed in Rio were never given property to live on in the first place, forcing them to settle in the margins of the city that became known as favelas, many believe it is time the government makes amends.

It is not only important for the quilombolas to fight against racism and systematic marginalization but it is also important for them to fight for the right to have a place of their own. Here they can build a future in a land they did not arrive at willingly but now call home.

The Guardians of the Forest

This group, formally established in 2013, is made up of around 120 indigenous activists in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve. Located in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, this reserve is one of the regions most at risk of illegal logging. Emboldened by the relaxing of consequences for illegal loggers by the Bolsonaro administration, violence is increasing and the local people are taking matters into their own hands.

At first, most of the group’s work entailed destroying the camps of illegal loggers, using guerilla tactics to make them feel unwelcome. The Guardians are now working to set up an NGO and website in order to raise awareness and donations to help fund a more organized resistance.

It is indeed dangerous work. In 2019, the Indigenous Missionary Council released a report saying that violence against the indigenous peoples of the Amazon went up 23% from 2017 to 2018, making for a total of 135 people murdered in 2018 alone. Thus, the Guardians take this work very seriously. Most of them are Guajajara, the indigenous people of the area, therefore, they see it as a sacred duty to protect the land they have lived on for centuries. “We will continue to confront the wrongs committed by the Brazilian system of justice against the lives of Brazilians.”

Marielle Franco

Born to a very poor family who immigrated to Rio, Franco grew up in the favela Maré. Because she was exposed to the injustice of police brutality at a young age, Franco’s experiences fuelled her political career.

In 2016, she became a councilwoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party, officially enlisting in the fight for human rights in Brazil. She worked hard in this position to improve the situations of women and people living in favelas.

The councilwoman proposed 16 bills but only two were approved while she was alive. Another five would pass after her death, a small comfort to those who saw her as a leader.

In March of 2018, a now-charged man shot the 38-year-old Rio councilwoman in an alleged assassination. Now, after her death, her life is celebrated by supporters wearing shirts that read, “Fight like Marielle” and her name is the inspiration and strength people need to keep fighting for their rights.

Inspiring Activism in Brazil

The danger of these and thousands of other activists fighting for human rights in Brazil is tangible and constant. Thus, the courage to continue this work even in the face of such great risk shows the world their commitment to stand up against an authoritarian government.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in BrazilPeriod poverty is defined as a lack of access to menstrual hygiene resources and education. This includes access to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management services. Financial barriers exacerbate period poverty in Brazil. Menstrual products in Brazil are taxed because they are not categorized as essential. In fact, in São Paulo, taxes form 34% of the price of menstrual products. Individuals and organizations are dedicating efforts to addressing period poverty globally.

Period Poverty in Brazil

In Brazil, not only is access to period products an issue but females also have no or limited access to hygiene facilities. Roughly 39% of schools lack handwashing facilities. This inadequacy directly impacts girls’ school attendance because, during menstruation, girls need a bathroom facility to change their tampons or pads and wash their hands. Outside of school, roughly five million Brazilians live in places that do not have adequate bathroom facilities.

Menstrual Stigma

There are about 5,000 known euphemisms for the words “menstruation” or “period.” This simple fact illustrates the shame associated with menstruation. Cultural taboos, discrimination, lack of education and period poverty perpetuate menstrual stigma. The consequences are that girls miss school while menstruating due to stigmas and taboos as well as a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. Missing school means falling behind on education and increases the likelihood of girls dropping out of school altogether. Without education, girls are at higher risk of child marriage, early pregnancy and violence. Lack of education continues the cycle of poverty, limiting the futures of girls. This clearly illustrates how period poverty affects overall poverty.

Helena Branco

Ordinary young Brazilians are taking action to address period poverty in Brazil. Helena Branco is an 18-year-old Brazilian inspiring change and finding solutions to period poverty. After learning that the Brazilian government did not view period products as an essential resource, she took action. Branco and her teammates are part of Girl Up, a global movement for gender equality created by the United Nations Foundation.

After extensive research, the team’s first step was to focus efforts on supplying menstrual products to people suffering from the financial impact of COVID-19. The team developed the campaign #AbsorventeUrgente (#UrgentPads) to encourage local communities to donate menstrual products to organizations supporting vulnerable people during COVID-19. A total of 16 girl-led gender equality clubs from seven different Brazilian states took part in this effort. Through the campaign, the team successfully distributed more than 60,000 period products, raised $3,200 and directly impacted more than 3,000 people.

Eliminating Global Period Poverty

Branco and her team are bringing attention to the issue of period poverty in Brazil, highlighting barriers such as menstrual product taxes that discriminate against women. It is vital to address issues of period poverty in order to eliminate stigma and normalize the idea of menstruation in all nations. Efforts to address period poverty are essentially efforts to address global poverty overall.

Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr

investing in BrazilThere are numerous reasons to invest in foreign aid in general. That can include partaking in growing the global economy, promoting international human rights and opening donor countries to potential investment returns. What makes Brazil a particularly good market to invest in is its promising role in the global economy. There are several reasons why investing in Brazil is beneficial.

COVID-19 Response

As of January 2021, Brazil has the third-most COVID-19 cases worldwide. The Brazilian economy was not in its best shape at the start of the pandemic because it has not fully recovered from the 2014-2015 recession. This made the economy vulnerable to precarious economic shocks that resulted in increased poverty, unemployment and small business fragility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left countries like Brazil with possible lasting economic damages. Many emerging and developing countries rely heavily on foreign aid for financial and humanitarian support. Offering foreign aid to Brazil will not only help pave the way for a domestic post-COVID recovery but also alleviate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic through humanitarian benefits.

Diversified Opportunities in Emerging Markets

The Brazilian economy is classified as an emerging market. Emerging markets are economies that are transitioning into a developed economy. Since the launch of the MSCI Emerging Market (EM) Index in 1988, which measures portfolio performances of emerging markets, investing in emerging countries proved to create new and diversified opportunities outside of common markets.

Market Expansion and Economic Growth

Since 2016, Brazil has shown an increase in GDP growth with approximately a 1.3% increase. In 2020, Brazil fell back into recession because of COVID-19. However, Brazil’s economy displayed growth and has played an important role in the growth of the Latin American economy as it makes up 35% of the Latin American GDP. It is approximated that the Brazilian market reaches 900 million consumers in just the Americas.

On how quickly the Brazilian economy rebounded, Bloomberg reports boosted domestic demand and exports with a 9.47% rise in economic activity index from July to September of 2020 in comparison to the previous months.

As Brazil recovers from COVID-19’s economic impact, it leaves opportunity for foreign investors to take advantage of Brazil’s growing market, especially with its low interests. Some of Brazil’s profitable sectors include real estate and agricultural goods like coffee, sugar cane, corn and soybean. Participating in these sectors expands Brazil’s domestic market and hence the world market size.

Geographical Location

Especially for the United States, Brazil’s proximity allows easier trade. For other advantages, Brazil’s geographical properties for the agriculture sector also make its commodities attractive. Approximately 28.7% of land is used for agricultural production which makes up more than 4% of the annual Brazilian GDP. Following China, the United States and Australia, Brazil has the fourth-most amount of agricultural land.

Foreign Investment Returns

Encouraging enterprises to invest in foreign aid can ultimately result in great returns. A common type of foreign aid for these corporations is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Through FDIs, corporations can potentially gain lasting interests, multinational consumers and flexible production costs. This type of foreign aid also brings developing countries like Brazil innovative technology, investment strategies, jobs and infrastructure from investing corporations of developed nations.

Foreign investment is critical to developing and emerging markets. Investing in Brazil promotes development and sustainability and also benefits foreign investors greatly. Furthermore, foreign investment assists economic recovery following unforeseen economic shocks like that of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

The Connection Between Prison and Poverty
In many societies around the world, mass incarceration is rampant and disproportionately affects those living in poverty. In 2013, reports determined that more than 10 million impoverished people have undergone incarceration. This has led to a dampening of upward social mobility because even after prison convicts face the stigma of being a former felon, individuals who believed that their best option to rise from poverty was a life of crime will likely return to a community where their best survival option is criminal. A connection between prison and poverty emerges in developing countries where cyclical policies keep people at the bottom of the social hierarchy with no way out.

The Connection Between Prison and Poverty

Former U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston studied this prison-poverty connection. In 2018, he released his findings in a report that documented how overly harsh government policy can have a pronounced effect on impoverished offenders. Alston notes, “so-called fines and fees are piled up so that low-level infractions become immensely burdensome, a process that affects only the poorest members of society, who pay the vast majority of such penalties.” If someone fails to pay their debts, the government will often place restrictions on their driver’s license, making recidivism far more likely.

Pre-Trial Detention in Brazil

Brazil ranks as the country with the third-highest rate of incarceration, behind China and the U.S. Its prison population rises above 755,000. Like the United States, the developing country engages in pre-trial detention. Pretrial detention is the act of holding a person suspected of a crime without rights until a court date. However, poor people often stay in detention facilities longer than the wealthy. This is because they cannot afford the exorbitant cash bail that the wealthy can. A 2010 study found that hundreds stayed in jail several years past their planned release. Additionally, “irregularities” lead to the mistaken detainment of over 16,000 Brazilians. Pretrial detention inmates currently overcrowd Brazil’s prisons, which make up nearly a third of the inmate population.

The War on Drugs in Thailand

With the number of people incarcerated at 344,161, Thailand ranks as number six in the world when it comes to mass incarceration. Similar to Brazil, the country has its own struggles with prison and poverty. An unexpected explanation for Thailand’s overcrowded prisons is the American War on Drugs. In 1997, a financial crash forced many Thai people into unemployment. This economic despair led to an increase in the number of drug users. In 2003, the government chose to heavily police these now-impoverished citizens. While Thailand has backed away from violent crackdowns, the majority of arrests are still primarily drug offenses. To evade time in prison, wealthier people can pay the $1,300 in drug charges. In 2016, only 27% of first-time offenders managed to avoid recidivism, as those in poverty could not afford bail.

Penal Reform International

While the connection between prison and poverty seems deep-rooted, it is still capable of transformation. Organizations have worked to alleviate the flaws of prison systems throughout the globe through educational, political and relief efforts to break the cycle. Penal Reform International is one such group.

Founded in 1989 with a focus on rehabilitation, Penal Reform International (PRI) works with the United Nations and other organizations to advocate for fair treatment of people in the criminal justice system. PRI observes detention centers and offers solutions to systemic abuse. For example, PRI studied the lives of the female offender population in the country of Georgia. The report found that they detained over a third for non-violent drug offenses. About 40% of those questioned committed crimes for financial reasons, while 80% were also mothers. Among those who received a release from prison, more than half had trouble finding employment due to their record, while most never obtained any kind of rehabilitative assistance. Between 2016 and 2019, PRI created a project providing services to Georgian women prisoners. Services included legal aid, counseling, business grants and healthcare assistance. Respondents expressed that the project has greatly improved their mental wellbeing, preparedness and self-esteem.

Prison and poverty can intertwine when the prison system values money over people. Nevertheless, learning about these issues surrounding developing countries can shed light on the flaws in one’s own.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Brazil
Brazil, a country that many know for the luscious biodiversity in its Amazon rainforest, comprises over 211 million people, making it the second most populated country globally. Among the Brazilian population, around 68% is between the ages of 15-64, a target age range for both anxiety disorders and depression. Brazil leads in the world in terms of anxiety cases and ranks fifth for cases of depression, while access to public health support for treatment remains low. Here are six facts about anxiety, depression and mental health in Brazil.

6 Facts About Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health in Brazil

  1. People recognize mental health in Brazil as taboo. Individuals in Brazil often underestimate or even ignore the mental health suffering of those who are battling anxiety or depression. The Brazilian culture does not place an emphasis on mental health as Brazilians see the need to focus on treating physical ailments rather than seeking care for mental issues. Consequently, in high-stress environments such as in workplaces, employers do not recognize the need to take time off to prioritize mental health. Moreover, doctors handle the majority of patient concerns, leaving out the possibility of allowing a psychologist or psychiatrist to make informed health decisions.
  2. The focus on traditional work culture exacerbates anxiety and depression. Traditional Brazilian work culture values the workaholic employee. Although a large percentage of the population is aging, many individuals in Brazil remain employed and take on long shifts despite the burden it places on their quality of life. People believe the prevailing notion that social status and appearance provide a place in society. As a result, working long hours equate to limited time for family, friends and activities that would otherwise decrease the stress associated with one’s job. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers who remain active are facing higher rates of anxiety and depression given that the fear of contagion is their main source of stress.
  3. Worsening socioeconomic status increases the prevalence of mental health issues. Individuals growing up in households facing low socioeconomic status tend to have a higher risk of becoming depressed or experiencing an anxiety disorder. A study evaluated a cohort of young subjects between 10-18 years old and looked at the onset of symptoms of depression as well as their relationship to the socioeconomic status of the previous generation. The study concluded that there was a connection between family financial problems at an early age and depression at 18 years old, as a chronic cycle of adversities can become difficult to eradicate.
  4. Adolescents between ages 15-17 are at a heightened risk of experiencing a mental health issue. Approximately 7-12% of Brazilian children and adolescents suffer from a mental health issue and almost half of these cases are severe, meaning that they would require mental health care. Not only are anxiety disorders and depression highly stigmatized in Brazil, but adolescents already face a period of frailty and adaptation of physical, cultural and psychological changes. In fact, the search for identity and insertion into the world at this age creates a great burden of anxiety. When coupled with food insecurity, low socioeconomic status and limited education, the risk of mental health issues rapidly increases.
  5. Limited access to education affects mental health. In Brazil, adolescents whose mothers had fewer years of schooling had a higher prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders than adolescents whose mothers had over eight years of schooling. Additionally, the lower a mother’s level of education, the greater chance that the students would feel lonely, have fewer friends and have trouble falling asleep due to constant worrying. Socioeconomic status also plays a role in determining whether or not a child can attend a school with a promising future in Brazil. Children of middle and upper-class families can afford the high tuition necessary to attend private schools, whereas families living in the country’s low-income housing, known as favelas, must send their children to public schools. In an attempt to reduce the education gap between public and private schools, the Foundation Institute for Economic Research founded a program called Tem+Matemática. The program joined students in public schools with tutors from a similar socioeconomic background as them, to prove that the educational challenges are surmountable.
  6. Declining mental health in Brazil remains a difficult problem to eradicate, however, some are taking measures to lessen its intensity. Through reform on a community basis, care continues to shift from institutions to community services and mental health services emerged in the form of psychosocial care centers, known as CAPS. The community services that CAPS offers help those with persistent and severe mental health issues through both individual and group assistance in the form of actions including therapeutic workshops, sports activities and family assistance. Brazil has grown its numbers of CAPS centers substantially since 1998, demonstrating a considerable expansion of access to mental health care. By fostering a sense of social inclusion, Brazilians struggling to cope with mental health issues can find a new sense of hope and support.

Looking Ahead

Although Brazil ranks fifth worldwide for depressive cases, organizations such as the Center for Valuing Life (CVV) are working toward improving outcomes for those suffering from depression. Given that the second leading cause of death among Brazilians aged between 15-29 is due to suicidal tendencies, the CVV provides those suffering from suicidal thoughts with assistance over the phone. To ensure accessibility, the service is available 24 hours a day. The CVV affirmed that their services have helped with cases every 43 minutes, promoting a service of help and acceptance.

– Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Brazil
After the end of a 20-year military dictatorship, significant action began to take place regarding healthcare in Brazil. As a result of the long political struggle, healthcare as a right became enshrined in the Constitution in 1988. The Sistema Único de Saúde is the name of the public healthcare system in Brazil. Decentralized in its nature, both state and federal governments finance the system.

After a major reform in 1996, nearly 70% of the Brazilian population uses this system. The people who need it the most are those who cannot afford private health insurance, which tends to be the lower middle class, especially those who live in impoverished areas like the favelas. According to James Macinko, an associate professor of public health, the reform resulted in “Brazil [having] the lowest rate of catastrophic health expenditures (2.2 percent) of nearly any other country in the region.”

How the System Works

The system’s promise is providing equitable healthcare in Brazil, regardless of one’s socioeconomic background. As a result, many people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds received healthcare. In 1994, the government started an initiative called the Family Health Strategy. The program intended to provide healthcare services in people’s homes. While the intention of the program was not to strictly target the poor, those who reaped the greatest benefits were people of low income and living in impoverished areas.

The program was a medical success. It improved data accuracy regarding mortality, increased immunization rates to 100% and reduced unnecessary hospitalization for chronic diseases. However, most critically, it reduced the inequity in access and utilization of healthcare services. The government also created a program called Mais Medicos in 2013 which resulted in many foreign doctors (mainly from Cuba) arriving in Brazil and being placed in marginalized communities that lacked much-needed medical care.

Recurring Issues

The situation of healthcare in Brazil does raise a lot of concerns. For one, it is still sensitive to political and economic pressures. An example of this occurred in 2014 when Brazil experienced a deep recession. This resulted in the government taking austerity policies after failing to improve the economy through other means. These other means include price controls and stimulus packages. This led to lower tax revenues and significant cuts in healthcare during 2015.

On the political side, there is a recent example of Prime Minister Jair Bolsonaro capitalizing on the unpopularity of Cuban doctors by the Brazilian medical community. In the process, he made offensive accusations against the foreign professionals, required the doctors to take examinations to practice medicine in Brazil, forbade the Cuban government from taking away 75% of the doctors’ wages and mandated the doctors to have their families move to Brazil. This series of actions have alienated both the Cuban government as well as the Cuban medical practitioners which resulted in many leaving the country. This created a hole and vacuum that the government has tried yet failed to fill using Brazilian doctors. As of January 2019, 1,533 positions remain unfilled. The people who suffer most are the marginalized communities who desperately need those doctors.

Brazil’s Healthcare and Technology

Strong suggestions have emerged that one way to make Brazilian healthcare more resilient is by adding more investments to the existing infrastructure in order to make it more adequate. When it comes to making healthcare in Brazil more efficient, the leading solution providers are tech startups. They hone the power of technological innovation to address the inefficiencies in the system. One example is the startup iClinic, a Software as a Service that helps doctors with visitor management, organization of electronic records and remote telehealth consultations. It has had 22,000 customers which represent 7.5% of the market share.

On the mobile front, there are apps like Dieta e Saude. This has helped over a million and a half people make better choices regarding their dietary and exercise routines. When it comes to prescriptions, Memed is a startup that has emerged to fill the dire need for e-prescription management. It provides its services to more than 50,000 doctors. Errors occur in over 77% of prescriptions due to a lack of digitization. E-prescription management services help by reducing those errors through the use of scanning.

These are just some of the examples that make healthcare in Brazil more efficient, cost-effective and less dependent on the public healthcare system. As a result of these factors, public healthcare in Brazil will be in less need of government spending and less sensitive to political and economic pressures.

– Mustafa Ali
Photo: Pixabay