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Brazil health authorities on standby for swine flu outbreak

April 27th, 2009

Brazilian Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporão, Agencia Brasil

Brazilian Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporão, Agencia Brasil

Brazilian Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporão says Brazil is prepared to fight a potential outbreak of swine flu, after the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the threat level to an imminent risk of a global pandemic.

So far, there is no evidence of the swine influenza virus in Brazil or that it has reached pigs, ruling out risk from contact and consumption of products of porcine origin in the country, the government says.

“It would be irresponsible to say that it will not come to Brazil. We are prepared to fight it if it gets here,” the minister said on Wednesday.

Officials say Brazil’s health service network is on alert and a contingency plan have been in place since 2005, after previous bird flu scares.

Enough medicine to treat 9 million patients has been put aside and there are 52 hospitals prepared to meet  suspected cases, the minister said.

As Brazil moves into autumn, meaning lower temperatures in some areas, doctors expect regular cases of influenza to increase, but they are taking no chances.

Two suspected cases in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo have been identified, with patients being treated as if they have the disease, despite this not being confirmed.

Among a population of close to 195 million people, there are currently 36 patients being monitored in the states of Amazonas, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Santa Catarina and São Paulo.

Worldwide, 148 cases have so far been confirmed in nine countries, with eight deaths - seven in Mexico and one in the United States, WHO says.

Pork market fears

Meantime, concerned about pork exports worth an estimated $1.5 billion, the Brazilian government is to send documents to main buyers certifying the quality of meat, Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes also said on Wednesday.

 Photo: ttaammyy, flickr

Photo: ttaammyy, flickr

Stephanes insisted pork consumption is not linked to the transmission of swine flu, suggesting the name of the illness, should be changed to ‘Mexican flu’, after the country where it originated.

The minister said he plans to invite President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for a roast pork lunch next week.
Experts from the government funded agricultural research corporation Embrapa are in the United States contributing to the development of a vaccine to combat swine flu, he added.

News ,

Ronaldo close to crowning comeback after double strike

April 26th, 2009

Ronaldo, once the forgotten man of Brazilian football, was the star of the first leg of a fiercely contested São Paulo state championship final on Sunday, scoring twice against rivals Santos.

Photo: nikefutebol, flickr

Photo: nikefutebol, flickr

His second goal, an exquisite left-foot chip over Santos goalkeeper Fabio Costa in the 76th minute gave his Corinthians team a 3-1 advantage and moved his dream of winning silverware in his comeback season a step closer.

Earlier, in the caldron of Santos’ Vila Belmiro stadium, Ronaldo killed a through ball dropping over his right shoulder, before running on to fire home a low left-foot shot in the 26th minute.

Chicão had put Corinthians ahead in the 11th minute from a free-kick from just outside the 18-yard box.
Triguinho pulled a goal back in the 61st minute for Santos.

Now in the twilight of an illustrious career that will be remembered for two goals in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph over Germany, Ronaldo has notched eight goals in ten appearances for Corinthians, including a late equalising header against bitter rivals Palmeiras.

“The most important thing was the result,” said a beaming Ronaldo at the final whistle.

After a year out of the game, a clearly heavier Ronaldo, not for the first time has overcome potentially career-threatening injury and his team now go into the home leg of the final at São Paulo’s Pacembu stadium next Sunday as overwhelming favourites.

Sport , ,

Presidential Candidate faces chemotherapy

April 26th, 2009

Photo: Fabio Pozzebom Agencia Brasil

Photo: Fabio Pozzebom, Agencia Brasil

Dilma Rousseff, the choice of Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to succeed him, will have to undergo four months of chemotherapy treatment, after recently having a malignant tumour under her left armpit removed.

Doctors in São Paulo say there is a 90% chance the treatment will be successful because it was spotted in the early stages.

Dilma, 61, President Lula’s Chief of Staff, says she plans to continue working normally.

Brazil holds presidential elections towards the end of next year and should Dilma get the ruling Workers Party (PT) nomination, she could become Brazil’s first female head of state.

Dilma, who was jailed and tortured by authorities during Brazil’s military dictatorship period, recently rejected media suggestions she knew anything about an alleged plot by an armed opposition group with which she had links to kidnap a leading economist at the end of 1969.

News, Politics ,

Brazilian Bureacracy: Two sides of the same groin

April 23rd, 2009

A simple visit to a health clinic for an ultrasound scan provided an object lesson in the famed sluggishness and painstaking nature of Brazilian bureaucracy.

Photo: turtlephotography, flickr

Photo: turtlephotography, flickr

“Doctor will only scan the right side of the groin unless you provide us with a code for the left side as well,” the receptionist insisted to my medical insurance company on Thursday.

For patients used to the British National Health Service (NHS) and all its supposed failings, the Brazilian private sector, for those lucky enough to able to afford it, can be quite an opener too.

I sit there for nigh-on forty minutes, as the receptionist and the health insurance provider battle it out in call after call.

“The groin counts as one area, so you only need one code,” the health insurance operator told me on the phone, on one of the occasions,  I’m dragged into the row.

By the way, I’m there being tested for a suspected hernia.

All this to-ing and fro-ing with them in this verbal game of tennis and fretting about whether I’ll end up stumping up the cost myself is enough to leave my inner workings down below in a permanent twisted state.

Finally, we have a winner.

After yet another consultation with the doctor, the receptionist — who by now feels like my lawyer — gets her way — and the code– and I’m in and out of the ultrasound in a flash.

The scan was scheduled for 7:40am [NHS please note] and I’m back out into the world outside by 9:30 am, with once again Brazilian bureaucracy triumphant!

Life ,

Passengers leaving from Brazil get cheaper airfares boost

April 23rd, 2009

Photo: J & J, flickr

Photo: J & J, flickr

Greater competition between airlines flying from Brazil is on the way, after the country’s civil aviation authority (ANAC) approved a move to ditch minimum airfares.

Until now the cost of tickets for passengers leaving Brazil had to meet minimum price criteria, but this will be phased out gradually within 12 months.

From this week, airlines should be able to cut prices by 20%.

After three months the discount allowed will be 50%, another three months later, this will rise to 80% and at the end of twelve months minimum prices will disappear.

Last year, ANAC adopted a similar move for flights from Brazil to South America, which was completed on September 1 last year.

Prices of domestic flights were deregulated in 2005.

Although airlines are not obliged to cut prices, officials expect consumers will benefit from promotions, especially in periods of low demand.

Before the new rules came into force, the minimum cost of a flight to the United States was $708, the United Kingdom $869, Bahrain $1,267 and Japan $2,046.

Business, News ,

The walls that divide Rio de Janeiro

April 11th, 2009

Moves underway to build walls around the slums of Rio de Janeiro has split opinion among citizens and also highlighted some interesting contrasts, according to a recent opinion poll.

The erection of 3-metre high walls at a cost of R$ 40 million ($18 million) has caused controversy, with 47% of people questioned by pollster Datafolha in favour of such moves and 44% against.

Photo: Walker Dawson, flickr

Photo: Walker Dawson, flickr

In a survey with a 4% margin for error, there appears little to choose between those on opposite sides of the debate.

The Rio de Janeiro state government says it has begun the action to protect remaining areas the city’s forest, although two- thirds of those asked believe won’t the objective won’t be achieved.

Rich-man, poor man?

For some it is seen as a cruel and crude sort of apartheid, separating wealthier from poorer areas, though interestingly 60% of those questioned say they don’t believe the walls will divide the haves from the have nots.

Among those whose monthly family income stretches to two minimum salaries R$930 ($415), 51% are in favour and as many as 39% are against the plan.

At the other end of the scale, 50% of those whose households bring in more than 10 minimum salaries of R$4650 ($2,077) disapprove of the walls against 45% who want them to become a permanent fixture.

Concrete barriers will surround 88,000 slum dwellers in 26,000 houses and shacks crammed into 1.7 square kilometres, if figures published at the turn of the Millennium are anything to go by.

Since then, of course things have not stood still.

Rocinha, which in 2000 was said to have 17,000 inhabitants, now reportedly has close to 26,000 people living there – a more than 50% increase.

Photo: dreamindly, flickr

Photo: dreamindly, flickr

From those who abhor the idea, the 14.6 kilometre long walls that will encircle thirteen favelas — twelve of them in the city’s South Zone, the other in the West Zone — have drawn comparisons with the Berlin Wall and the plight of the Palestinian people.

It has been suggested that the walls are being put up to hide the favelas.

The plans have won approval from 57% of people with a basic education, while 53% from a higher educational background are opposed.

It’s not the first time the idea has been put forward.

Though the plans were dropped following strong criticism five years ago, as part of efforts to protect the environment, while preventing drug traffickers and other alleged criminals fleeing from police raids walls it was announced that walls would be erected around four favelas.

Among those surveyed, 45% now think the walls would stop bandits escaping, while 51% believe they would fail to do so.

Negligent past

Until recent decades, favelas with their precarious living conditions, were seen as part of the solution not the problem by some who were happy to see them expand.

To unscrupulous politicians, slums were and still are viewed as somewhere to dump the poor, uneducated classes and as an easy place to pick up votes by promising, but never having to deliver desperately needed healthcare, sanitary and education facilities.

Keeping the slum-dwellers in poverty is also said to have allowed drug traffickers and other assorted criminal types to keep a stranglehold on their communities, as they carry out all manner of illegal activities.

Meantime, current affairs magazine Veja suggested that the time may have come for the city and state governments to now start applying proper building regulations to all of Rio’s thousand favelas, instead of just a comparative handful.

Indeed, the magazine cited state governor Sérgio Cabral as saying: “This is a wall of inclusion.”
Time will tell.

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