The relation of deforestation and respiratory diseases


(Michael Olsen, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Eloyne Sartor Holanda Moraes, a 22 year-old medical student born in Guarantã do Norte – Mato
Grosso, Brazil, resident of Maringá – Paraná, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The use of fire as an agricultural tool generates several impacts on the environment, including the loss of biodiversity. Deforestation and burning are today, in Brazil, the two biggest environmental issues faced. Although they are distinct practices, the felling of vegetation is almost always associated with the burning of plant material. Such practices directly influence the balance of ecosystems, on human health and consequently, on the planet.

The intensity and indiscriminate use of  fire have become a serious environmental problem for the country. Besides that, the dry climate in several regions of the country allows the spread of fire, so many kilometers of vegetation can be destroyed in moments, in addition, biomass burning is an incomplete combustion process whereby the material reacts rapidly with air producing intense heat and light release. During the combustion process are released chemical species such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxides (NO3), hydrocarbons and aerosol particles, which are incorporated into the atmosphere and transported to locations distant from the burn site, reaching other places. . These elements undergo photochemical reactions that help in the formation of secondary pollutants, such as ozone (O3), aldehydes and peroxiacil, which are more toxic than their precursors.

Therefore, gases released during burning are highly toxic to both the ecosystems and human health. The World Health Organization (WHO), in a document prepared for events related to forest burns, highlight health as dependent on a healthy environment, highlighting the need to address burning problems in a global context of change. In human health, the respiratory tract is the most affected by such practices, and 60% of respiratory diseases are related to environmental pollutants.

In a cross-sectional study conducted in Tangará da Serra – MT, in the Brazilian Amazon, Rosa et al, analyzed the hospitalizations for respiratory diseases in children under 15 years old in an area with high levels of environmental pollution. In 2005, the hospitalization rate for respiratory diseases in children under 15 years old was 70.1 / 1,000 children in the Tangará da Serra microregion. Between 2000 and 2005, in the county, there were 12,777 hospitalizations of children, of which 8,142 (63.7%) for respiratory diseases.

In the dry season (May to October) there were 10% more hospitalizations for respiratory diseases than in the rainy season (November to April). The main causes of hospitalization were: pneumonia (90.7%) and respiratory failure (8.5%). In children under 5 years of age, hospitalizations for pneumonia were more than 4 times expected for the region. Children under 12 months of age were most often hospitalized, with an average increase of 32.4 hospitalizations per 1,000 children each year. Tangará da Serra has shown a high number of hospitalizations for respiratory diseases, so it is consistent to consider it as a priority area for research and monitoring of environmental risk factors for such diseases.


  • Rosa, A.M; Ignotti, E; Hacon, S. S; Castro, H.A; Análise das internações por doenças respiratórias em Tangará da Serra – Amazônia Brasileira. J Bras Pneumol 2008.
  • Gonçalves, K.S; Castro, H.A; Hacon, S.S; As queimadas na região amazônica e o adoecimento respiratório. Ciênc. saúde coletiva [online]. 2012, vol.17

About the author

Eloyne Sartor Holanda Moraes, 22 years old, born in Guarantã do Norte – Mato
Grosso, Brazil, resident of Maringá – Paraná, Brazil. Medical student at the Ingá
University Center in Maringá – PR, Brazil. Founding member and local president of the
local committee IFMSA Brazil – UNINGÁ.

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