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Memorandum Nº. 2 from Baron Pedro Afonso to Nuno de Andrade, General Director of Public Health, informing of the recruitment of a technical team and assistants for the Manguinhos laboratory and their respective roles and salaries. Federal Capital, May 26, 1900

In December 1902, Oswaldo Cruz replaced the Baron of Pedro Afonso as director of the Federal Serum Therapy Institute. Three months later he was named to head the General Directorate of Public Health, to which the institute was subordinated. Taking advantage of his new position, Cruz endeavored to provide the institute with the technical and financial conditions necessary to expand its activities. Within a short time, he had extended the scope of its biomedical research, substantially broadened its line of biological products, begun offering instruction in microbiology, and opened its first branch, in Belo Horizonte. In addition to investigating human disease, the institute added veterinary science as a promising new field of research for its scientists.

Established with the mission of producing vaccine and plague sera, the Federal Serum Therapy Institute gradually shaped itself into an authentic research center. From its inception, this had been Cruz’s dream. The successful campaign against yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro and the gold medal that the institute won at the Berlin Exhibition in September 1907 contributed to this goal. On December 12, a decree signed by President Afonso Pena transformed the Federal Serum Therapy Institute into the Institute of Experimental Pathology, soon after renamed the Oswaldo Cruz Institute.

This change was not merely a de jure recognition of a de facto situation. New bylaws written by Cruz gave the institute more autonomy in its relationship with the government. Removed from the orbit of the General Directorate of Public Health, it now responded directly to the Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs. Among other prerogatives, it won the right to market its own products, hire new staff, and charge for the services it provided to public agencies and private businesses.

If the priority had previously been to expand the institute’s activities, now the order of the day was to train specialists. Cruz sent a number of researchers abroad to further their studies while also sponsoring visits by foreign scientists, who taught courses and conducted research at the institute. While it had originally been established to research the epidemics besetting the nation’s capital, the institute moved into a new phase that took it deep into the country’s interior. During their expeditions, institute scientists explored the most far-flung, forgotten corners of Brazil, where they revealed the harsh reality of simple, impoverished people forsaken by government and castigated by disease.

The announcement that Carlos Chagas had discovered American trypanosomiasis in 1909 definitively propelled the Oswaldo Cruz Institute to the international scientific stage. This illness—now known as Chagas disease—was the key draw to the Brazilian Pavilion at the International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, held in Dresden, Germany, in 1911. Based on the three pillars of research, production, and teaching, the institute gained solid footing as a center of microbiology devoted primarily to the study of tropical disease. And even though it was not the first, the Oswaldo Cruz Institute became one of the most successful and enduring experiences in Brazilian science.