Correspondence

Nature 428, 601 (8 April 2004) | doi:10.1038/428601a

Scientific aid to Brazil is strangled by red tape

Stevens Kastrup Rehen1

  1. Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, ICND118, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

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The cost of importing donated equipment can be more than its original purchase price.

Sir

Young Brazilian scientists not only have to pay high prices for equipment, as reported in your News story "High prices of supplies drain cash from poorer nations' labs" (Nature 428, 453; 2004), they receive little funding from government agencies, and encounter obstacles if they obtain international support. For instance, when a Brazilian institution has valuable equipment donated by laboratories in the developed world, getting the equipment through customs is a surreal experience. Not only does it require tremendous amounts of paperwork; in some cases release from customs can take more than a year, during which time storage is charged. Consequently, the cost of importing scientific equipment to Brazil is often higher than the cost of the equipment itself in the developed world.

What is at stake here is more than specific items of equipment. This situation risks undermining the creation in Brazil of new research groups led by young scientists, trained abroad in the most up-to-date techniques. In the United States, for example, the Pew Latin American Fellows Program awards junior biomedical scientists US$35,000 at the end of their US postdoctoral training, to help establish laboratories back home. The benefits of such schemes are many, but they will falter without a different policy towards foreign scientific trade and donations.

The nomination of a new minister of science and technology, Eduardo Campos, offers some hope. Although state and municipal institutions are also responsible for delays in importing goods, the possibility of reform is mostly in federal hands. President Luis Inacio Lula's administration, which was elected with a mandate for change, should give immediate attention to these matters.

Signed on behalf of:
A. Muotri, A.-M. Landeira-Fernandez, J.-G. Abreu, M. da Silva Almeida, M. Guimarães, R. Mohana-Borges, S. Ribeiro.
Full addresses are available from the corresponding author.