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Letter from the editor | 228

Too much of this, too little of that

January was full of stories with banner headlines. Between the severe drought in the Central-West and Southeast of Brazil and attacks abroad, the high number of surgically-induced births – cesarean or C-sections – drew the public’s attention in Brazil. In early January, the Ministry of Health and the National Agency for Supplemental Health decided to intervene in order to reduce the number of unnecessary C-sections, those performed for no medical reason. To limit the practice, doctors will be required to submit a detailed justification of the reasons leading to the decision to perform surgery. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum C-section rate of 15%; in Brazil, the C-section rate is 40% in public hospitals and 90% in private hospitals. One consequence of this excessively high rate is beginning to come under more scrutiny. Researchers at different universities are collecting evidence that some of these C-sections can result in the birth of infants that are not yet fully mature and who are, as a result, at an elevated risk of developing respiratory problems and even death.

The high rate of C-sections in Brazil is no surprise. Since the 1970s, the rate has risen continuously. According to a report, Born in Brazil, a study coordinated by researchers at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the rate has gone from 15% 40 years ago to the current decade’s 52%. Today, new research conducted at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Ribeirão Preto clearly indicates, for the first time, an increase in the rate of premature births owing to unnecessary C-sections. Data on the days and times in which the C-sections were performed and whether they were performed in public or private hospitals were examined, and it was clear that convenience played a very important role – that is, a significant number of C-sections had been scheduled in advance. Reporter Alice Giraldi and Science Editor Ricardo Zorzetto recount the ins and outs of this story beginning on page 18.

The news in this issue is not limited to maternity-related topics. The work of researchers in Rio Grande do Sul is shedding new light on the social behavior of mammals and how they establish emotional ties. Oxytocin, for example, is an important hormone that stimulates uterine contractions during birth. Recently, it was discovered that it might also play an important role in fathering. Translated to real life: South American monkeys whose fathers often look after their young demonstrate changes in this hormone level. This is unusual behavior in male mammals. The magazine’s On-line Content Editor Maria Guimarães explains how this rare encounter between an evolving genetic study and behavioral experiments came about (page 50).

The scientific work described above contains complexities that might scare anyone who wants to follow the paths science is pursuing. To demonstrate that scientific research can also be dynamic and fun, a group of researchers has recreated the science kit. This is a box containing a single small laboratory for middle school students designed to pique their interest in research. For the time being, the collection Adventures in Science has five kits (physics, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry and biology) and is a limited edition. This year, the plan is to bring the experiment to students at 22,000 public schools throughout Brazil. Assistant Editor Bruno de Pierro describes how this idea, which enjoyed so much success in the 1970s, is being implemented anew (page 42).

Finally, I recommend reading the interview with Professor Elson Longo, a specialist in ceramic materials at the Araraquara campus of São Paulo State University, conducted by Technology Editor Marcos de Oliveira (page 24). Longo has always been attuned to the needs of both academia and private companies and especially adept at forming productive and mutually beneficial partnerships between the two.