The Amazon forest serves an essential role in regulating the global climate. But when the health of the people who live in the Amazon is overlooked, the rainforest’s health is also harmed. When villagers are forced to travel long distances to seek medical care in the city, they leave behind the forest, which makes it vulnerable to land-grabbers, says Erika Pellegrino, the doctor in charge of the vaccine expedition. In addition, people often engage in destructive and illegal activities, such as mining and logging, that give them fast money to pay for transportation and medical costs, she adds.
Pellegrino has heard many stories like this. As a researcher at the Federal University of Pará Medical School, she is conducting a study to understand how access to healthcare (or the lack of it) in the riverside communities of Terra do Meio is linked to environmental protection. “Although not obvious, there is a strong relationship between territorial security and health access,” she says.
Back in March 2021, during the pandemic’s peak in Brazil, Pellegrino and colleagues started promoting community meetings with local people by ham radio, the only method of communication available in most Amazonian villages. During six conversations, which she called “radical listening sessions,” she questioned more than 200 villagers about the main challenges they faced in living their traditional way of life in the forest. Land invasions and difficulties in accessing healthcare were unanimous answers. “They told us that if they had better access to healthcare and education, it would support them to stay on their lands, resisting external pressures, and protecting the forest,” Pellegrino says.