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Jeffrey Lesser, new visiting professor, will study cultural and health habits in São Paulo

by Richard Meckien - published Aug 24, 2015 12:10 PM - - last modified Aug 27, 2015 11:19 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa

A trajectory linked to Brazil

Jeffrey LesserJeffrey Lesser has a proximate relationship to Brazilian history and is an unstopPable follower of life in the country. An example of this involvement is the article he wrote for CNN's website immediately after the demonstrations against the Brazilian government on August 16.

Lesser is currently Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Brazilian Studies, Director of Brazil Initiative and Head of the Department of History at Emory University, in Atlanta.

He obtained his Ph.D. in history at New York University, supervised by Brazilianist Warren Dean (1932-1994), who was a lecturer at the IEA-USP in the late 80s. Lesser became master through the American Civilization Program of Brown University, where he majored in political science.

Lesser has already been a professor at the University of Tel Aviv (Israel), at the USP, at the UNICAMP and at the UFRJ (Brazil), and at the Connecticut College, at the Occidental College and at Brown University (USA).

His most recent book is "Imigração, Etnicidade a Identidade Nacional no Brasil", which will be released still in 2015 by Editora Unesp (the original version in English came out by the Cambridge University Press in 2013).

Historian Jeffrey Lesser, from Emory University, wants to contribute with public health policies that combat infectious diseases through the analysis of historical and epidemiological data. This is how he sums up the research project that he intends to develop as the new visiting professor of the IEA-USP from October 1. Lesser's work will be linked to the Institute's research group on Intercultural Dialogues.

"Metropolis, Migration and Mosquitoes" will have Lesser and eco-epidemiologist Uriel Kitron as main researchers. Kitron will work from Emory University, of which he is also a professor.

According to Lesser, the project will provide alternative means for understanding and overcoming cultural barriers in health care. "We will use a new integrated approach to the humanities methods (historic analysis), and the natural and social sciences (ecology, epidemiology) to answer questions on immigration, diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and health outcomes," explains the historian.

The diseases chosen for the study are yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya, all three caused by viruses that have mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albapictus as vectors. Lesser considers the project particularly important at this time due to the fact that São Paulo expects the arrival of chikungunya in the city this year.

They will research two areas of the city: Luz / Bom Retiro (with 70,000 inhabitants) and Liberdade / Cambuci (with 90,000 inhabitants). According to Lesser, these areas "have historically shown differences in the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases and the response to them."

These regions have been chosen because they are home to Brazilian immigrant and foreign immigrant communities. "In both regions there is an area considered by the general population as 'foreign' and socially upward and another one considered 'Brazilian' and socially stagnant," says Lesser.

In both regions there will be an examination of the ecology of diseases, demographic patterns and health discourses in cases of yellow fever (19th century), dengue (20th century) and chikungunya (21st century). Interdisciplinary methodologies derived from epidemiological ethnography of inhabited areas and approaches based on a system of historical and geographical information will allow to store and analyze geographic data from the past and simulate changes over time.