So-called “tree huggers” are often seen as kooks or crazy environmentalists, but protecting trees, especially tropical rain forest trees may be a way to save millions of lives.
This is particularly true in the Amazon rain forest where deforestation and human health are at a critical juncture. Scientists have found that forests do more than shelter animals and prevent soil erosion. They also protect people from malaria.
Why Is Malaria A Problem?
Malaria is a disease caused by a protozoan of the genus Plasmodium. The single celled organism is transmitted from one person to another through bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. Malaria kills over one million people each year around the globe and most of its victims are children.
Scientists have long suspected that tearing down rain forests might lead to higher malaria rates because the open landscapes that replace forests have more partially sunlit pools of water. Those pools are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Initial research showed that malaria-carrying mosquitoes were more abundant in deforested areas, but didn’t examine malaria rates. Scientists needed more evidence of a link between deforestation and disease.
Later research in Brazil using high resolution satellite data to track forest cover, and more comprehensive health data, including patient blood samples, gave them the information they needed. Brazil has more than seven thousand health districts. Scientists tracked fifty-four of these districts, comparing both deforestation and malaria rates.
What Did They Find?
They found that only a four-percent change in forest cover was associated with a dramatic forty-eight percent increase in malaria.
With over a half million cases of malaria documented in the Amazon each year, it seems that tree hugging might be a good way to save lives.
- Deforestation and Malaria in Mâncio Lima County, Brazil (CDC)