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Brazilian scientists at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus

Publicado em 08 abril 2020

Despite tight budgets, the Brazilian scientific community is conducting cutting-edge research to combat the coronavirus, with innovative solutions to overcome the lack of equipment in hospitals, such as artificial respirators.

As soon as the first case of Covid-19 from Brazil was confirmed in Sao Paulo on February 26, two researchers sequenced the genome of the virus in record time (less than 48 hours), showing the vitality of science in their country. , despite the obstacles.

"The Brazilian scientific community makes a very significant contribution, even if it has received very little funding from the federal government, especially in the past six years," said Carlos Brito, scientific director of the Research Support Foundation at AFP. Sao Paulo (FAPESP).

Since the coming to power of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in January 2019, public universities have been regularly the target of criticism from the government and its supporters, who accuse them of promoting a "left ideology", and the cuts budgets have accelerated in research.

Faced with the coronavirus, the head of state has ignored all the scientific evidence by questioning the containment measures recommended by the WHO and adopted worldwide, in the name of preserving the economy.

He even nearly sacked his own Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, a doctor who said on the contrary that he was "based only on science" to make his decisions.

The posture of Jair Bolsonaro is defended by certain business leaders, but also by pastors of neo-Pentecostal churches, notably the influential Edir Macedo, for whom the idea of imposing social distancing is "a tactic of Satan" .

Low cost respirator

Far from being demobilized, Brazilian researchers continue to work tirelessly in universities, public or private, against the coronavirus which has killed nearly 700 people and whose peak is expected at the end of April.

In addition to research, groups of students and professors are dedicated to the production of materials that are currently in short supply, including artificial respirators, protective equipment for health professionals and hydro-alcoholic gel.

Jurandir Nadal, head of the pulmonary engineering laboratory at the COPPE Institute at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), is developing a low-cost respirator project.

By bringing together professors and students from various disciplines of medicine and engineering, he developed a prototype which, if produced on a large scale, "can be used exceptionally, in emergencies, by 'absence of a conventional pulmonary ventilation device'.

Its cost: 5,000 reais (approximately 1,372 Canadian dollars), ten times less than the average price of industrial respirators.

The idea is to initially manufacture around 1,000 devices, with funding from public and private companies.

According to the Ministry of Health, Brazil, for its 210 million inhabitants, currently has 65,000 pulmonary ventilation devices. The government ordered 15,000 more, at 18,296 Canadian dollars.

Investments required

Despite the success of this kind of initiative, Jurandir Nadal admits that because of budget cuts, it is increasingly difficult to retain young Brazilian researchers, attracted by better working conditions at foreign universities.

Several Brazilian public bodies supporting research and education have started to release funds to finance projects aimed at fighting the coronavirus.

But Carlos Brito recalls that Brazil still manages to reap the fruits of work carried out for several decades, especially in areas such as virology, crucial in the fight against the Covid-19.

The country has faced numerous epidemics in recent years, including those of dengue, zika or chikungunya.

"The scientific ability to make a real contribution in an emergency like this cannot be built in a week. We have acquired this know-how over the past 40 years, ”he says.

“Universities are the pride of Brazil and they should be seen that way. Now is the time to show our value, to show that public funding is fundamental, "added Denise Carvalho, president of the UFRJ.

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