The Globe and Mail: In Nunavut, medical staff saw signs of a devastating TB outbreak. The government didn’t

Robert Joamie, 44, fell seriously ill with an active case of tuberculosis last October during an outbreak in Pangnirtung, a community of 1,500 people just south of the Arctic Circle. PHOTO: PAT KANE.

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by The Globe and Mail (Canada), was published on June 29, 2022.

A Globe investigation found nurses at Pangnirtung’s understaffed health centre were begging for help from the territorial government in the summer of 2021 as TB spread and officials held off on publicly declaring a crisis.

Early last September, nurse Jennifer MacNab was approaching a breaking point in her fight against tuberculosis in the Nunavut hamlet of Pangnirtung.

For weeks, she had been calling and e-mailing her superiors, begging for help in controlling the spread of an infectious disease that can be fatal if left untreated. TB cases were mounting and “critical tasks” were piling up, Ms. MacNab warned.

As the only public health nurse working in the fly-in community last summer, she found there weren’t enough hours in the day to trace all the contacts of patients with contagious TB. She estimated there were, “at minimum,” 100 contacts of newly diagnosed patients who needed assessments. She didn’t have time to start everyone who needed it on preventative treatment or to chase down all those sick with active cases of TB to give them their daily pills.

“The TB program needed manpower a month ago,” Ms. MacNab wrote in an e-mail to territorial health officials on Sept. 9. “The program is failing every single day. TB continues to spread. It needs help immediately. I have been utterly clear in my repeated requests. I am at a loss where to go to have my words heard.”

Six weeks earlier, on July 29, Yves Panneton, the nurse in charge of Pangnirtung’s health centre, wrote to some of the same officials to say the community was in the midst of a tuberculosis outbreak. But Government of Nunavut health officials disagreed and held off on publicly declaring an outbreak until late November.

They also refused, until May of this year, to divulge the number of TB cases in Pangnirtung, despite the territory’s top Inuit organization and its information and privacy commissioner pressing the government to report TB cases in all 25 Nunavut communities, just as it had for COVID-19.

Ms. MacNab’s and Mr. Panneton’s e-mails are among more than 200 pages of correspondence and internal documents about the TB outbreak in Pangnirtung obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access-to-information request. The paper trail, along with interviews The Globe conducted with Pangnirtung residents, TB experts, health-care workers and government officials, reveal how the territorial government failed to curb the spread of TB last summer, when declaring an outbreak sooner and deploying more front-line staff to the Baffin Island community might have prevented tuberculosis from infecting as many people as it did.

To read the full investigation on The Globe and Mail’s website, please click here.

Rádio Gaúcha Zero Hora: Just over half of the 1,800 daycare centers of the federal Proinfância program in Rio Grande do Sul were completed

Sérgio and Janete Eberhardt with their three children in what was to be the Alliance Park School, in Terra de Areia, on the North Coast. The unfinished work was part of the Proinfância program, launched 10 years ago by the federal government. André Ávila/Agencia RBS

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by Rádio Gaúcha Zero Hora (Brazil), was published on June 25, 2022.

July marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most ambitious construction projects ever created in the country, the National Program for Restructuring and Acquisition of Equipment for the Public-School Network for Early Childhood Education (Proinfância). This federal government project emerged in 2012 as a possible redemption for the dilemma of those who had nowhere to leave their children to go to work. Execution was just over halfway through. 

In Rio Grande do Sul, the construction of 1,843 daycare centers and sports courts was planned. Of this total, 853 were not completed. For three reasons: either they were canceled (they only had a contract, the works did not even start) or they are unfinished (the contract ended before the construction was finished) or paralyzed (the construction stopped, but the contract is still in force). 

When someone analyzes the skeletons of unfinished daycare centers that proliferate in Rio Grande do Sul, one name tends to pop up: MVC Componentes Plásticos. This company, which is undergoing judicial reorganization, started to build 41 daycare centers and never finished them. They represent 41% of the works interrupted in Rio Grande do Sul territory by the manager of Proinfância, the National Education Development Fund (FNDE), linked to the Ministry of Education (MEC)

The companies assure that the schools were unfinished because the federal government delayed all transfers of funds for the works. And also because municipalities did not comply with earthworks commitments. “More than 10 meetings were held at the Ministry of Education, explaining the problem of default and requesting the resumption of works. Nothing worked, the resources did not come”, emphasize representatives of Gatron (MVC’s new name), in a note to the editors.

The vast majority of FNDE works are made up of Proinfância children’s schools, but some are sports fields. Of the total of 853 projects that did not succeed in the state, 202 relate to MVC. Most did not even get off the ground, but 41 of these MVC daycare centers were started – and not completed. Of the 41, as the FNDE informed the editors, there are plans to redesign or resume 10. The others are abandoned. 

The Federal Audit Court (TCU) is watching and has just approved a specific audit for interrupted MEC works across the country. Almost all of the abandoned buildings are children’s schools. Of the 9,700 suspended projects, around 2,300 had some structure started. 

Even with these mishaps, Proinfância did more than it failed to do. 15,600 works were completed and another 3,600 are in progress. What is strange to the auditors, according to the court document, is that the federal government has prioritized the construction of 2,000 new schools recently, when there are so many unfinished constructions. 

The RBS Investigation Group (GDI) researched federal government and municipal websites and found that MVC is the contractor that most promised and least fulfilled, among the contracts agreed with the FNDE. When the federal government launched the Proinfância bidding process in 2012, the state faced one of the worst deficits in early childhood education, with a need for more than 215,000 vacancies. MVC closed contracts to generate 19,400 vacancies in Rio Grande do Sul, with the construction of 208 of the 1,800 projects planned by the FNDE for the State (almost all daycare centers). But only 12 schools were completed (6% of the forecast), with a balance of 1,900 vacancies created. Other contractors also failed in the commitment, but MVC is the one that has fulfilled the fewest contracts, proportionately. 

What happened? It is a long story. The federal government was in a hurry to tackle the deficit in early childhood education. In Rio Grande do Sul alone, 215,000 jobs vacancies to be created. Due to the need for speed, the first Proinfância bidding, carried out under the Differentiated Public Procurement Regime, had among the winners four companies that prepared innovative constructive proposals, which promised to conclude in less time and at a lower cost than conventional ones. One of them, MVC, won a bid to build 1,241 daycare centers in the country (208 of them in Rio Grande do Sul), by replacing bricks with a polymer (with fiberglass), a lighter material. 

The method, which claims to be more agile and cleaner than traditional masonry, uses ready-made sheets fitted together. However, the construction company was not able to build the planned schools within the established deadline. It claimed financial difficulties due to lack of transfers of state funds and asked for price readjustments, not granted by the city administrations – which would also have failed to comply with other agreements, such as preparing land. MVC even committed to building 900 by 2015 and started more than 600, according to a report brought to the federal government that year. Then the works stopped. 

The result is that, between 2013 and 2015, MVC concluded only 12 day care centers in the state. This occurred after part of the funds were allocated to the ventures. In addition to wasting public funds and the deterioration of the material wasted in the interrupted works, the communities were left without the daycare center vacancies that would be created in these almost 10 years. 

The Federation of Associations of Municipalities of RS (Famurs) mediated meetings between mayors and representatives of the construction company, which undertook to resume work. But despite promises, the schools were not completed by MVC.

Some municipalities, with the help of federal funds, abandoned the alternative method and, in many cases, used their own resources to complete the schools, hiring other contractors, in addition to obtaining assistance renegotiated with the FNDE. The worst thing is that in many cases these construction companies signed contracts to complete the interrupted works of MVC and also did not complete the service. 

— Mayors struggled to complete daycare centers when MVC left them incomplete. They managed to complete 160 of the 202 projects agreed by MVC. They did this with their own resources, in the most advanced buildings, and with funding from the FNDE in the others. In relation to the 41 interrupted constructions, many are so deteriorated that lack conditions for conclusion — says Márcio Biasi, Education Coordinator at Famurs. 

In some cases, city administrations that resumed work had to redo the entire structure, because MVC’s technology is not compatible with conventional bricklaying, says Biasi. The mayor of the coastal town of Terra de Areia, Aluísio Teixeira, confirms this. MVC abandoned a daycare center construction in that municipality when it had 34% of the work completed. The structure rusts in the open, and the municipality filed a lawsuit for damages against the company. The intention is to use the land for a new day care, but only after they manage to win the lawsuit. In the meantime, the city pays rent for rooms for small children to stay. 

— Not even the foundations of the unfinished daycare can be used more, because the innovative material proposed by MVC does not support the weight of concrete or bricks. We will have to start from scratch,” laments the mayor. 

The work was budgeted at BRL 790,000 and, according to the FNDE, two transfers of BRL 197,000 each were made. The building rots in the open. 

The Federal Audit Court (TCU) even considered that MVC would be declared unsuitable and prohibited from participating in federal bids for five years, but the measure was not adopted. Pressed by debts, the company entered into judicial reorganization in 2017. 

The corporate name MVC was changed to Gatron Inovação em Compósitos, whose headquarters are in São José dos Pinhais (PR). MVC is a corporation whose shareholders included the Rio Grande do Sul companies Artecola (74%) and Marcopolo (26%). Marcopolo alleges that it withdrew from society before the daycare project. 

Süddeutsche Zeitung: The Uber Files

Credit: Suddeutsche Zeitung.

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), was published on July 10, 2022.

Who lobbied for Uber in Germany? How did the company go about it in other European countries? And how successful was it? 

The Uber Files involves more than 124,000 documents from Uber, a global ridesharing company. The data dates from 2013 to 2017 and consists of around 83,000 emails as well as text messages, PowerPoint slides, invoices for expenses and strategic memos.

The files were leaked to The Guardian, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 42 other international partners. In total, more than 180 journalists from 29 countries examined the documents for four months. In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR were involved in the research.

The Uber Files provide an extensive insight into the political and media strategies employed by the company to establish itself in European markets.

To read more about The Uber Files on Süddeutsche Zeitung’s website, please click here.

The Globe and Mail: Inuit group presses Nunavut government for transparency on tuberculosis

Pangnirtung, a hamlet of roughly 1,500 residents, is a one-hour flight northwest of Iqaluit. PAT KANE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL.

To mark World News Day on September 28, 2022, the World News Day campaign is sharing stories that have had a significant social impact. This particular story, which was shared by The Globe and Mail (Canada), was originally published on July 4, 2022.

The president of a major Inuit organization has reiterated her call for transparency after The Globe and Mail published an investigation of a tuberculosis outbreak in Pangnirtung, a hamlet of about 1,500 people on Baffin Island.

In an interview, Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), stressed the need for the Government of Nunavut to release TB data for individual communities. This echoes sentiments she wrote in a letter to Nunavut’s Health Minister earlier this year, saying that the government’s refusal has “jeopardized the health” of residents and acted as an impediment to signing a crucial TB action plan.

The Globe investigation, based on more than 200 pages of internal documents obtained through an access-to-information request, revealed that front-line nurses were begging for help managing TB in Pangnirtung last summer, months before an outbreak was declared on Nov. 25, 2021. The government didn’t reveal the extent of the spread until six months after declaring the outbreak, when The Globe sent a list of questions for its investigation and Pangnirtung’s mayor asked for greater transparency…

To read the full story on The Globe and Mail’s website, please click here.