Help People in BrazilThough Brazil boasts a strong economy, income disparity between the rich and poor is vast, and 3.7 percent of the total population lives in poverty. Much of the poverty in Brazil is concentrated in northern rural areas, where young people in particular feel the effects of poverty. In Northern Brazil, about 25 percent of all children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. This income disparity is partially due to unevenly distributed land, and high land prices make it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete in the market. In recent years, the government has undergone measures to correct this imbalance, including reducing taxation on farming, which has already begun to improve the welfare of rural poor.

Brazil has been very successful in alleviating much of its own poverty, in particular through a government program known as Bolsa Familia. Through Bolsa Familia, parents receive a monthly stipend in exchange for sending their children to school and to health checkups. Still, there is much to be done to ensure that the rural poor continue to thrive.

Here are just three ways to help people in Brazil:

  1. Sponsor a child. With young people in Brazil most harshly affected by income inequality, this may be one of the most effective ways to disrupt the cycle of poverty and help people in Brazil. For example, Child Fund International offers programs to sponsor individual children. This money goes toward supplying a child with food, clean water and education.
  2. Volunteer. There are many ways to volunteer time toward bettering conditions for people in Brazil. Project Favela, based out of Rio de Janeiro, is a volunteer-run organization which offers both schooling and after school care for poor children (and many adults as well) completely for free. Volunteers help teach English, science, math, reading, art, theatre and even coding.
  3. Encourage vocational training. CARE, a nonprofit organization based out of the UK, has had tremendous success addressing the structural causes of poverty in Brazil and encouraging rural schools to provide vocational training to its students. In addition, CARE has helped poor communities in Brazil develop sustainable business practices and has provided access to microfinance.

Though Brazil still struggles with inequality and poverty, it’s clear that, on its own, the country has made tremendous strides toward fixing its problems. With a bit of help, it can continue to bring down the poverty rate and build a better future for all its citizens.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr

Violence in Latin AmericaEvery year, the Citizen’s Council for Public Security in Mexico releases a ranking of the 50 most violent cities in the world. The list is based on homicides per urban residents and does not include conflict zones such as Mosul, Iraq. The recently released 2016 ranking demonstrates the range of violence in Latin America: of the top 50 cities, 42 are in Latin America.

The biggest Latin American country, Brazil, accounted for the highest number of cities on the list at a whopping 19. Mexico and Venezuela rounded out the top three, and the Venezuelan city of Caracas topped the list. It is also worth noting that a number of smaller Latin American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, all had cities on the list. The concentration of urban violence in these 43 Latin American cities is alarming.

The link between global poverty and violence emerges clearly from this ranking. Many of the causes of violence in Latin America can be directly linked to symptoms of poverty such as hunger, political instability and weak public institutions. Venezuela, the country with the chart-topping city of Caracas, demonstrates this connection clearly.

Caracas ranked as the most violent city in the world for the second year in a row. In addition, four of the top 10 most violent cities were Venezuelan. Venezuela currently finds itself in a crisis state from a mix of political instability, extreme hunger and economic desperation. Venezuela’s financial woes spring from the collapse of the oil industry, governmental corruption and economic mismanagement. The crisis has become so extreme that 75 percent of the population has lost an average of 19 pounds in five years. The desperation and frustration from this situation have inspired massive government protests, many of which have turned violent. This confluence of factors has contributed to Venezuela’s prominent position on the list of most violent cities.

Venezuela presents one of the most extreme examples of the connection between poverty and violence, but a number of other trends also characterize the Latin American cities that dominate the list. Drug trafficking throughout the region is a large contributor. Violence between rival cartels placed Acapulco, Mexico in the number two spot on the list.

Brazil, the country with the most cities on the list, faces many of the same challenges as Venezuela. Governmental corruption and poor public services have spurred massive demonstrations that have led to widespread violence.

A few small Central American countries also face their own unique challenges. Countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have a disproportionately high number of cities on the list given their tiny sizes. Drug trafficking and weak public institutions are important causes in these countries. But impunity and histories of civil war and divisive social issues also play into the high violence rates in these small countries.

The range of violence in Latin America is large, but there are various factors that can be generalized across the region. Foreign aid from countries like the United States can help alleviate some of the common causes of violence. For instance, Venezuela’s economy has reached its last $10 billion. Providing food and economic support to the Venezuelan people could help stabilize the country and lead to more democratic and peaceful state than the violence currently ravaging the country. More than anything, people in Venezuela and the region at large need money and resources to stem the tide of violence across Latin America.

Bret Anne Serbin

Photo: Flickr

Using Fish Skin to Heal Burn Victims
In Brazil, there are only three skin banks to serve a population of 208 million people. The health care system is so strained that the collagen and tissue stored at these skin banks can only meet one percent of the demand of burn victims in Brazil. Due to the high cost of skin grafts, most burn cases instead receive a sulfadiazine burn cream containing silver to prevent infection. The treated area is wrapped in burn gauze with no healing or restorative property to the tissue. When researchers at José Frota wanted to address this issue, they had a novel idea: using fish skin to heal burn victims.

The researchers began experimenting with Tilapia, which is one of Brazil’s cheapest and most abundant species of fish. The results were shocking, not only did the treatment cost 75% less than the cream and gauze method, but it also resulted in far less pain for patients. Some patients even reported being able to stop taking pain medications due to the fish skin treatment. This is in part because the Tilapia skin is richer in types 1 & 3 collagen than human tissue; these collagens are critical to healing burns in damaged tissue.

The collagen in Tilapia skin also stays moist longer than burn creams, resulting in fewer applications than with gauze. This lowers pain when administering the bandage as well as decreases medical costs while healing the wound. On many second-degree burns, the fish skin can remain on the skin throughout the entire scarring process. In Brazil, Tilapia skin was previously considered garbage, but doctors’ ability to use fish skin to heal burn victims has changed those opinions.

One reason for such an incredible discovery is that Brazilian medical researchers face different problems than their American counterparts. This leads to innovative solutions to problems of cost and access to health care that uniquely faces their society. Consequently, their ingenuity results in developing solutions that benefit the global medical community. In the same manner that World War II produced the advancement and mass production of penicillin, the inequitable and resource deficient health care system in Brazil produced this innovative approach.

Although not directly involved with this project, USAID is incredibly important to creating relationships with researchers, physicians and universities that facilitate these discoveries. Doctors have shown promising results from their early experimentation, but they need a private company to begin producing and selling the fish skin to hospitals for it to gain momentum in the medical community. USAID could invest in the project to produce these skins that would reduce its health care expenditures across the globe. Using fish skin to heal burn victims is just the beginning of low-cost high tech solutions with incalculable benefits that our foreign assistance and investment can produce.

Jared Gilbert

Photo: Flickr

Brazil's Poverty Rate
In a mere decade, Brazil’s extreme poverty rate has dropped dramatically. In fact, among the BRIC nations, Brazil has the second-lowest percentage of its population living under the poverty line. Former President Lula’s unprecedented Bolsa Família Program (BF) is modestly responsible for this success.  In 2003, Brazil’s poverty rate stood at 9.7%; in 2013, that percentage was down to 4.3.

The concept of the Bolsa Família program is straightforward and trusting. The BF gives low-income families small cash transfers and in return, the families attend preventative health care visits and keep their children in school.  Bolsa Família has both short and long term goals. In the short term, BF has exceeded expectations.

Not only has BF help halve the poverty rate, but it has also improved income equality by 15%. Historically, Brazil has struggled with social and economic equality. As recent as the 1980s and 1990s, the nation’s poorest 60 percent of the population had only four percent of the total wealth.

The BF’s long term goals are grounded in sustainability, for it provides a more promising future for the youth generation. Through education and health, the BF works to give children opportunities to prosper later in life.  This work breaks the cycle of poverty that many in Brazil face.

The likelihood of a 15-year-old girl being in school has already increased by 21%, and infant mortality rates have significantly dropped. Long term monitoring is required to see the actual long term benefits of the program, but thus far the evidence is encouraging.

Aside from the economic advantages of the program, Bolsa Família has also restored integrity and hope to Brazil’s poor. Most of the beneficiaries of BF are women, and female empowerment leads to a more educated, efficient and modern society.

The first of its kind of such a large scale, BF is an example for the rest of the world. By 2013, 120 different delegations had visited Brazil to find out more about the program, and similar cash transfer programs have already popped up in 40 countries.

BF may be a simple concept, but its innovation and success are far-reaching. By providing 50 million people, or ¼ of the population, with small, monthly cash transfers, Bolsa Família has slashed Brazil’s poverty rate and given poor children better futures.

However, Bolsa Familia is only one part of the government’s four-pronged solution for fighting poverty in Brazil. Other strategies include setting the minimum wage, providing support for rural families, and creating a more formalized employment system.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr

An epidemic of yellow fever has recently emerged in rural areas of Brazil, with over 3,192 suspected cases reported, 758 cases confirmed and 426 deaths from the disease. The fatality rate for confirmed cases has risen to 35 percent as of May 18. Although it is not normally among the common diseases in Brazil, yellow fever poses a growing threat to Brazilian public health.

Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease that includes symptoms such as black vomit and bleeding from the naval cavities. The Aedes aegypti species of mosquito currently transmits the disease, mainly in rural areas of the country.

However, Brazil could face an even greater problem if the mosquito species that live in densely populated cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, contracts the disease and begins to spread it. Already Brazil has had to request 3.5 million doses of the yellow fever vaccine from the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision. Only six million doses currently exist in the emergency stockpile for the vaccine; for perspective, Rio de Janeiro had an estimated 12 million residents in and around the city in 2016.

While country officials deal with the yellow fever endemic, there are several other diseases which continue to affect its citizens, especially those living in poverty. Other common diseases in Brazil include:

Ischemic Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease ranks the highest among common diseases in Brazil. In 2015, it was the leading cause of death in Brazil at 18.8 percent, and it has frequently been the leading cause of death globally. Ischemic heart disease is especially prevalent among low- and middle-income countries, as living in poverty often correlates with some of the most common behavioral risk factors. These factors include an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. Due to the success of Brazil’s universal public health system, however, the mortality rates for cardiovascular diseases decreased by 24 percent between 2000 and 2011.

Diabetes was the fifth leading cause of death in Brazil in 2015, which was a rise from its previous position at seventh in 2005. Approximately 12 million Brazilians suffered from diabetes in 2015. Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body struggles to produce or respond to the insulin hormone. One way that the Brazilian Ministry of Health attempts to combat the increasing prevalence of diabetes is by offering free drugs to all people with diabetes and related conditions. They also support education and awareness activities.

Diarrheal Disease
Diarrheal disease is both preventable and treatable, and yet globally it is the second leading cause of premature death in children under five. In Brazil, it was the seventh leading cause of death in 2013. The greatest risk factors for deaths related to diarrheal disease are child and maternal malnutrition. As malnutrition generally plagues impoverished populations the most, the poor in Brazil are the most likely to suffer from the diarrheal disease. Fortunately, a rotavirus vaccination for infants has resulted in a decline in under-five-year-old diarrhea-related mortality and a decrease in hospital admissions in Brazil after the vaccine’s introduction in 2006.

With the threat of yellow fever and the constant presence of other common diseases in Brazil, the Brazilian government faces a great deal of work to improve and ensure the health of its citizens, especially those living in high-risk areas due to poverty. For now, the universal public health system strives to make current advances in preventing these common diseases accessible to all people.

Lauren McBride

Photo: Pixabay

Cost of Living in Brazil
The cost of living in any country is a direct result of inflation and the economy. As of June 2017, $1 is equivalent to 3.31 Brazilian real. The cost of living in Brazil does not seem to be high for everyday products such as fruit, bread and eggs when compared to prices in the United States. The costs tend to differ more when it comes to mortgage rates, and gasoline and other imports.

Brazilian cities were more expensive in 2011 than cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Berlin, Miami, Abu Dhabi and Luxembourg. The inflation rate was 6.5%, while the rate in the U.S. was 3%. The real should have become cheaper, not more expensive. This caused the cost of living in Brazil to rise.

By 2016, the economic situation had not changed much. Brazil, which had been the fifth-largest world economy when it won the Olympics, dropped to the ninth-largest economy after a significant decline in its gross domestic project. It went into its worst recession since the 1930s.

High taxes, poor infrastructure and low labor productivity have contributed to what is known as “Custo Brasil” (“Brazil cost” in English)­­– which refers to the increased costs associated with doing business in Brazil. It is likely that these costs directly impact the cost of living in Brazil.

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was expected to add to the economy while bringing Brazil out of the recession. With an influx of tourists’ spending money, the demand and supply for products should have increased.

More than 400,000 tourists came in for the Olympics and spent about 425 real per day; those 760,000 Brazilians who attended spent an average of 310 real per day. In total, the Olympics generated over $100 million in tourism revenue alone, based on the exchange rate as of August 2016.

Although the total amount of revenue generated remains unknown, companies spent more for the 2016 Rio Olympics than they did in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012. Between the revenue from tourism and sponsors, Brazil’s official inflation rate ended 2016 at its lowest level since 2013.

The central bank expects the cost of living to decelerate, with significant decreases having already occurred in the past few months. Brazil is expected to end 2017 with inflation below its target for the first time since 2009.

Stefanie Podosek

Photo: Flickr

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.

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.

5 Facts 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