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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced the names of some Grand Challenges Explorations Round 18 grant winners. Researchers from all over the world received $100,000 to develop ideas that can change the world. Out of four categories, one such idea is the Design New Solutions to Data Integration for Malaria Elimination. Among the recipients for this category is Dr. Helder Nakaya and his malaria GPS mapping idea.

Dr. Nakaya holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and is an expert in systems vaccinology. His lab uses computational systems biology to study the root of infectious diseases. Additionally, he works as both an assistant professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Pharmaceutical Science and as an adjunct professor at the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology.

His idea is to extract the location history file on mobile phones to determine the geographic location of infection along with if the area is a breeding site for malaria. While it’s standard for doctors to ask patients to retrace their steps, the mosquito bite could’ve occurred at any point between 10-15 days prior to the symptoms appearing.

This information can easily slip the mind of anyone, especially for someone enduring the effects of malaria. However, the perfect recall of mobile devices proves extremely useful in fixing this human issue.

Security is a concern, but those fears are easily allayed. The file necessary for this project only tracks the phone’s physical location. Photos, texts, call logs, contacts and all other sensitive information is stored separately and will not be examined. Dr. Nakaya and his team assure patients that submitting the file is up to them and anonymous.

If the malaria GPS mapping project goes well, Dr. Nakaya and his team of scientists could receive up to $1 million dollars in additional funding. Other researchers hope to broaden the program to detect breeding grounds for other infectious diseases and viruses (such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue).

Another possible scenario is that Dr. Nakaya develops an app that updates in real time. It could help citizens navigate around hotspots and let city halls know where to disperse public agents to deal with the breeding grounds. In other words, this idea could (again) revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr


Brazil approved a new sugarcane genetically engineered to resist the most devastating plague in the country. The major sugar exporter is the first to approve commercial use of genetically modified (GM) sugarcane. The developer CTC created the cane with the commonly-used gene Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). This allows the sugarcane to resist the insect Diatraea saccharides, which causes an annual loss of $1.52 billion to sugar producers.

Since most agriculture-based countries are in the developing world, insect-resistant crops such as Brazil’s new sugarcane can be especially helpful to poor farmers. Brazil will be the first to start utilizing the new sugarcane, but many other genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are already at work throughout developing nations.

While they remain a controversial topic in the U.S., GMOs like Brazil’s new sugarcane help feed the world’s poor.

Scientists, like the developers at CTC, possess the ability to engineer crops that solve manifold problems in developing countries. One example is Bangladesh’s Bt Eggplant, which resists a fruit and shoots borer pest. The eggplant’s genetic resistance decreases pesticide use and required labor while increasing crop yield, crop size and farmer profits.

Bangladeshi farmer Md. Milon Mia reported that pests used to ruin up to 40 percent of his crop yield before using Bt Eggplant. The GM eggplant now helps Bangladesh’s largely rural population, as the country climbs out of its position as one of the poorest in the world.

In a “Letter to the Editor” of The New York Times, a farmer from a village in India details his similar experience with GMOs. Like the farmers in Brazil and Bangladesh, Sudhindra Kulkarni uses a GMO designed to resist pests. With this GM cotton, his yields have increased four times, his crops have been healthier and his farm has been more sustainable.

Before the transgenic crop, bollworm pests were so damaging that he thought he “would barely scrape by.” But now, GM cotton has “transformed” the lives of his family. The impoverished Indian population has been cut in half in the past two decades, and developments such as GM farming are key to this progress.

Two billion people across the globe face food insecurity. 896 million people live on less than $2 a day. But GMOs like Brazil’s new sugarcane can improve this situation through the creation of more resilient crops.

 

With modern technologies, scientists can engineer crops that require less labor, cost less to produce and yield more product. With continued support for these lifesaving inventions, biologists can continue to develop solutions for the developing world.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Rocinha, Brazil

Just outside Rio de Janeiro are some of the largest urban slums in Latin America, filled with people and rich culture that makes up some of the unique parts of the country. One of these many slums is Rocinha, the country’s largest favela. Here are 10 facts about Rocinha, Brazil:

    1. Rocinha is located in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone on a large hillside overlooking the city.
    2. Rocinha is Rio de Janeiro’s largest “favela” or slum, with around 180,000 people living in the tightly packed city.
    3. Despite its large population, Rocinha takes up less than a square mile of land. This extreme lack of space forces families to build houses on top of one another. This results in house structures up to 11 stories tall.
    4. Rocinha is considered one of Brazil’s better favelas due to its close proximity to jobs and services. Easier access to jobs also means that families are better off and can afford basic necessities such as electricity and water.
    5. Although the slum has economic opportunities, drug-related violence is one of Rocinha’s more well-known characteristics.
    6. Since 2004, Rocinha has been under the control of a criminal group called Amigos dos Amigos, a gang known for violence and drug dealing.
    7. The average education level for a resident of Rocinha is 4.1 years, with less than 1 percent of the population receiving a degree above a high school diploma.
    8. In December of 2010, then-President Lula inaugurated Rua 4, a street development project that revamped a previously decrepit street into a downtown for the favela. With the new street came improved housing, gardens, playgrounds, plazas and locations for potential stores to open and boost the local economy.
    9. In 1998, an NGO called Two Brothers Foundation was founded in the slum in order to teach children and adults how to read and write in English for free. As of 2012, the organization had seven full-time staff members and about 50 volunteers from all over the world who join the program in order to help educate the residents of Rocinha.
    10. In 2012, a group called Green My Favela piloted its first “green space” in Rocinha. The project created a community garden in the urban slum and involved the local community by encouraging residents to come out and help maintain the garden. The garden has helped children get away from street violence and inspired interest in something benefitting the whole community.


These 10 facts about Rocinha, Brazil are a brief look into the favela. While the city has experienced hardships throughout its history, those who see all that the city has to offer to continue to make the city better for the generations that follow.

Olivia Hayes

Photo: Flickr


Worldwide deforestation has drastically changed our planet since the 1980s, with increased damage over the last ten years. Particularly in Brazil, mainly due to economic woes, deforestation has affected thousands of plant and animal species in the Amazon rainforest. Despite climate change efforts worldwide, deforestation in Brazil has worsened over the past two years after a consistent drop years prior. These are the five things you need to know about deforestation in Brazil.

  1. Deforestation has grown over the past two years.

    A survey conducted annually by the Brazilian government showed that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon had increased for the 12-month period ending in August 2016 and again for the 12-month period before that.

    The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, but for the second year in a row deforestation in Brazil has been allowed to continue. During 2015, the survey showed that deforestation growth was 24 percent. In 2016 the growth of deforestation was 30 percent.

  2. Food exports are the cause of the high demand for deforestation.

    From July 2015 to August 2016, 3,100 square miles of forest had reportedly disappeared. The occurred due to the increased exportation of meat and soy in the region. Brazil is the world’s top exporter of meat. Brazil needs to needs to remain the top exporter of meat to prevent its economy from falling into further disrepair, as the country has been struggling for the last few years.

    Along with the need for space to accommodate cattle, the amount of soy produced has increased, affecting deforestation in Brazil. In rural areas, farmers buy plots of land with permits from the government with the intent to sell products to larger companies, like U.S. company Cargill. As reported by the New York Times, “One of those farmers, Heinrich Janzen, was clearing woodland from a 37-acre plot he bought late last year, hustling to get soy in the ground in time for a May harvest. ‘Cargill wants to buy from us,’ said Mr. Janzen, 38, as bluish smoke drifted from heaps of smoldering vegetation.”

    His soy is in demand as Cargill is one of several agricultural traders vying to buy from soy farmers in the region, he explained.

  3. Many species are affected by deforestation.

    Deforestation in Brazil has put the Amazon in a vulnerable position with certain plants and species becoming susceptible to extinction. Home to more than 2.5 million species of insects, 2,000 species of birds and 10,000 species of plants, the Amazon rainforest is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. When fires are used as a tactic to eliminate trees in order to make space, the emissions from the smoke release hazardous toxins into the environment. This space clearing also wipes away a number of rare ecosystems and displaces different communities of animals. Currently, only 15 percent of the world’s forests are still intact.

  4. Big companies are partly responsible.

    Cargill and Bunge are two American food giants currently operating in Brazil. Both companies are known for pushing locals to buy soy in order to build ties with them. In 2014, Cargill was part of a worldwide deal in which the companies signed a pact to eliminate deforestation for the production of oil, soy and beef by 2020.

    Despite the deal, in the two years following the signing, deforestation in Brazil increased, partially due to companies like Cargill. In order for real change to occur, more companies have to agree to curb deforestation.

  5. Efforts by the Brazilian government have decreased.

    The Brazilian government had previously been known to acknowledge these pressing problem in the Amazon and had stepped up its efforts to combat deforestation. As of late, the government focus has shifted from the environment to its own interior issues.

    Cuts to the budget for the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable National Resources, also known as IBAMA, have become detrimental to efforts to combat deforestation in Brazil. IBAMA’s focus on the Amazon is to prevent deforestation through surveillance of the Amazon. The budget has been cut from $25 million to $7 million.

According to NPR, the Brazilian newspaper Estadão reported that “the rise in deforestation is raising concerns about Brazil’s ability to meet its commitments as part of the International Paris Agreement on combating climate change.” With budget cuts and old technology, it has become harder for officers of the IBAMA to do their job. Their radios only reach a 1.3-mile range, and pickup trucks have become too visible to illegal deforesters.

On the bright side, National Geographic noted that the government has implemented new tactics to tackle the heightening of illegal deforestation. Proof of permits must be provided to IBAMA officers when in certain areas of the Amazon. Only time will tell if these efforts will positively impact the severe deforestation in Brazil, despite the drastic cuts in aid and budget.

Maria Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

Brazilian Slums rio de janeiro facts
In 2016, the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro drew massive media attention to Brazil. While the majority of the media focus centered on the games themselves, concerns grew about Brazil’s dangerous climate, particularly in regard to the country’s slums. Below are facts about Brazilian slums.

 

Top Facts about Slums in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil

 

  1. The common term for a Brazilian slum is a favela. The name originated out of wartime, as soldiers during Brazil’s civil war sought temporary refuge on hills filled with favela plants.
  2. Favelas grew as migration increased. Since proper housing was too expensive for many immigrants, they turned to the poor, yet cheap, conditions favelas provided on the outskirts of Brazil’s major cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
  3. Approximately six percent of Brazil’s population live in favelas. Today, there are about 1,000 favelas in Rio and 1,600 in São Paulo.
  4. The typical favela has poor infrastructure, leading to difficulties in electricity and plumbing.
  5.  Disease is also rampant within favelas, as there is no standard for sanitation. Health risks may stem from overcrowding, pollution and a lack of waste disposal systems. Life expectancy within favelas is approximately 48 years, while the national average is 68.
  6. Poor living conditions within favelas often breed crime. Drug trafficking is common with most members being young male teenagers, who are four-fifths more likely to die before age 21, Joe Griffin of The Guardian reports.
  7. Gangs not only initiate wars amongst each other in Brazilian slums, but against police. There have been frequent shootouts between gangs and police, especially during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio when the state government was forced to employ numerous police pacification units (UPPs).
  8. Although UPPs originally heightened safety when initially introduced in 2008, they have recently been the center of much controversy, as civilian deaths have increased as a result of police misconduct.
  9. Despite these poor conditions, life in favelas is beginning to improve. NGOs, such as Community in Action, are focused on sustainable community development within these Brazilian slums.
  10. Many houses now have access to new technologies, such as television and the Internet. In addition, small businesses are making progress within their communities, most recently in the area of tourism.

Although progress appears underway, the Brazilian government must take more secure action to ensure that conditions within these Brazilian slums improve further.

Genevieve T. DeLorenzo

Photo: Flickr

Brazil Refugees
As the fifth largest country by both area and population, Brazil is the largest country in South America and Latin America and receives more refugees than any other country in the region. Brazil is also the only country in the Americas to have Portuguese as the official language.

The country is both a regional power in Latin America and a middle power in international affairs. Due to its recognition as an emerging global power, Brazil has been identified as a shelter to refugees and migrants. Here are 10 facts about Brazil refugees:

  1. As of 2016, Brazil has about 2,100 refugees living in the country.
  2. Brazil receives more refugees from Syria than any other country in Latin America.
  3. As of 2013, Brazil issued 8,000 humanitarian visas under more simplified conditions to allow survivors of the Syrian war to claim asylum in the country.
  4. Due to these visas, Brazil has had approximately 2,000 refugees settle in the country.
  5. Brazil refugees are able to receive informal, temporary employment in the services and retail industry.
  6. Brazil refugees are considered by some to be an unnecessary cost and security threat due to the country’s deep economic recession.
  7. Refugees claiming asylum in Brazil have higher education than the average Brazilian.
  8. The Brazilian government wants to limit the intake of refugees due to the country’s economic woes.
  9. Brazilian refugees will now be faced with the country’s recalibration of its foreign policy.
  10. Brazil’s refugees have the right to work, access to education and health care.


In recent years, Brazil has been praised for the country’s humanitarian efforts and openness to asylum seekers. As of recently, questions of the country’s ability to aid refugees have plagued the government amid the country distancing itself from developing nations and experiencing the worst recession in its memory.

Rochelle R. Dean

Photo: Flickr


Yellow fever is a potentially fatal disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Though the disease can be treated, Brazil has experienced a number of deaths that have caused people to label the yellow fever outbreak that began in December of 2016 a state of emergency. Here are some important things to know about the yellow fever outbreak in Brazil:

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is rare and usually includes mild symptoms, such as fever, muscle and back pain, headaches, shivers, loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting. Most people can recover after being monitored in a hospital and treated with fluids and rest. However, 15 percent of victims can develop into a second stage with more severe symptoms, such as high fever, jaundice, bleeding and organ failure. Almost 20-50 percent of those patients die.

How many people has the virus infected?

According to the Pan American Health Organization, there have been at least 320 confirmed cases and at least 220 deaths. There are more cases undergoing investigation. While the number might not seem drastic compared to the overall population, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that this is the worst case of a yellow fever outbreak since 2000.

What caused the outbreak?

A Mosquito species called “aeses aregypti”, which is the same mosquito that caused the Zika outbreak in Brazil between 2015-16, has been spreading to monkeys in the jungles, which then passed on to humans. According to zoologists, the virus has killed 600 monkeys in the Atlantic rain forest region, and rare primate species are facing a threat to their survival rate.
Since the start of the yellow fever outbreak, around 64 cities in Brazil have called for a state of emergency, including the state of Minas Gerais. The Ministry of Health assisted the state with investigations, vector control and coordination of health services. There have also been house immunization campaigns in rural areas.

How can we curb this outbreak?

Brazil can still survive this yellow fever outbreak in the same way it handled the Zika outbreak. Brazil’s Health Ministry ordered 11.5 million doses of the yellow fever vaccine, yet a shortage remains. While the vaccines can be effective, they are not routinely offered in major urban cities. However, millions of people have already been vaccinated, so there is hope the disease will not spread much outside of the country or into parts of the United States. The World Health Organization recommended that travelers be vaccinated for yellow fever.
While there are major concerns about the recent yellow fever outbreak in Brazil, if the Ministry of Health can make sure nearly everyone is vaccinated, perhaps the disease can be put under control.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

How Dilma Rousseff's Impeachment Impacts People Living in Poverty and What Can Be Done to Help
Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil since 2011, has been impeached after breaking rules surrounding manipulation of the federal budget. More specifically, it is believed that she masked the full extent of Brazil’s economic crisis when she ran for re-election in 2014.

Prior to Rousseff’s impeachment, she argued that if she were to be impeached, Brazil’s economic troubles would only worsen. This is because a governmental change this big is felt most strongly by the poorest in society, who are most dependent on the federal government.

Rousseff’s successor, Michel Temer, stated that he hopes to reduce public spending by increasing taxes on the lower and middle classes. He also stated that social programs aiding the poor will not be immune from budget cuts.

One example of a social program helping Brazil’s poor is Bolsa Familia. During her tenure, Rousseff was an advocate for this program, which gives stipends averaging $50 per month to 47 million Brazilian citizens — nearly 25 percent of the country’s population. Dilma Rousseff had recently increased spending toward this program by 9 percent and had also reworked the definition of poverty in order to allow more people to qualify for benefits.

The only conditions for citizens to receive Bolsa Familia’s benefits are that their children be vaccinated and regularly attend school. Despite the fact that the funds help lift people out of poverty and improve community infrastructures, the social program still requires public spending.  According to Temer, this kind of program will not be immune from spending cuts, which could seriously impact the millions of citizens who rely on government assistance for survival.

On a more hopeful note, Temer is confident that he can help Brazil make an economic recovery, despite the ramifications the poor may face. He intends to reform Brazil’s costly pension system, possibly by defining a minimum age of retirement.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Temer’s ideologies and proposed policies, it is reasonable to believe that major policy changes are the only way to get out of an economic depression. Temer has been vocal about his preparedness to make these major policy changes. While they may negatively impact Brazil’s poorest citizens in the short run, the country’s economy may ultimately recover, resulting in a better quality of life for all.

Nathaniel Siegel

Photo: Flickr

Tackling Brazil's Income Inequality
Almost 10 percent of Brazilians live under the extreme poverty line. This is coupled with extreme inequality of income distribution. Recently however, Brazil showed a tremendous progress towards redistribution of wealth. Even though there isn’t any considerable average increase in gross domestic product (GDP), efforts to reduce poverty exist along with overcoming Brazil’s income inequality. This counts as an important step toward achieving the millennial development goals.

This change in Brazil’s income inequality resulted from improvements in education. The government tried to reduce the gap between skilled and unskilled labor. Thus, the supply of skilled labor increased. This helped more families get out of poverty by earning higher wages. Another factor was using social policies that provided small transfers to low-income families.

Brazil is apparently following the trend in Latin America as the whole continent is fighting poverty. Latin American society is becoming more aware of the harmful effect of inequality on the whole global economic growth. However, Brazil’s progress is unique. Their inequality is far higher than many advanced countries and can do more to improve its situation.

One positive aspect is that Brazil‘s economy is very inclusive. With new policies bringing more labor to the market, Brazil’s economy will strengthen. However, the business environment is not very encouraging. Many people view entrepreneurial failure as an embarrassment and not necessarily a learning experience.

The World Economic Forum during a 2015 report explained that education must be reformed as well and more students from low socioeconomic background should be included.

Brazil’s income inequality gap is narrowing. Media focused recently on the events of a World cup and the Olympic Games but on the other side, Brazil socioeconomic conditions were becoming better. This is remarkable as Brazil was on the brink of collapse due to the global economic financial crisis. The model of socio-economic development that Brazil used can be applied in other countries such as Zambia or Nigeria.

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr

hunger in BrazilEvery day, 66 million people face hunger in Brazil, yet the country annually wastes 15 million tons of food.

Thirty percent of agricultural products are never consumed. In response, many organizations have mobilized to help Brazil lose its infamous position as the third biggest food wasting country, and provide relief to the 66 million suffering food insecurity.

1. Invisible Food Bill in São Paulo
Currently, food products in Brazil have unnecessarily short expiration dates, causing lots of good food to be thrown away. The Invisible Food Bill was proposed by Daniela Leite, Flávia Vendramin and Sergio Ignacio.

The Huffington Post explains the simple goal: “if implemented (the law) would require companies to donate food products that may have lost their commercial value, but are still suitable for consumption.” The trio hope to sell the donated items in a food truck and use the profits to raise awareness about food waste while the rest will go to charities to reduce hunger in Brazil.

2. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Network
The FAO was concerned by Brazil’s high food waste, and they have been combating the problem with a network of both public and private organizations. An FAO committee specialist stated that the production chain and infrastructure are to blame. Improved agriculture, shipping and storage practices would lower the 30 percent agricultural waste. This would save money for producers and lower prices for consumers. Unfortunately, food donation in Brazil is difficult because donors are legally accountable for recipients’ potential illnesses. A “Good Samaritan Law” is currently making its way through the legal system which would protect donors. The U.N. hopes to upgrade the processes to save money for everyone and simplify food donation.

3. Olympic leftovers feeding hungry people in Rio
Celebrity Chefs David Hertz and Massimo Bottura decided to put the leftovers from Olympic athlete’s meals to good use. The estimated 12 tons of food will given to people in favelas, or low income neighborhoods. Both chefs have experience with programs like this; Bottura founded an organization, Food for the Soul, that creates community projects similar to the Olympic program. While Hertz started Gastromotiva that provides vocational and cooking training to empower for low income people. Volunteers have re-purposed a vacant store into a feeding station which will become a community center with cooking classes after the games. These temporary soup kitchens transformed what would have been waste to 100 hot meals a day.

These organizations are attempting to reroute food from landfill to people. Officials hope the combined effort of the U.N. and other organizations will improve agricultural production and encourage donations with bills like the Good Samaritan Law and Invisible Food Bill.

Jeanette I. Burke