Aspects of Health Directly Related to the Ecosystem


Text Prepared in 1990 for the Ministry of Health


“In waters, winds and places”. Hippocrates.

The topics that we will discuss here should be looked at in conjunction with other areas of State responsibility, with a conscious response from the population.


1.1 Agriculture

Chemical products are used in agriculture.

There has been a shift from organic, subsistence agriculture to monoculture with intensive use of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides. These substances contaminate fluvial basins and enter the food chain, causing degenerative diseases.

“Packages” are available, for fruit growing, for example, which include 80 yearly sprayings, demanded by "Proagro" in order to obtain financing. 

As it is well known, the adequate monitoring of these chemical products is sorely lacking; the mere reproduction of tests carried out by the chemical industry is clearly insufficient.

1.2 Foods

As a consequence of the problems mentioned in item 1.1, many foods have been affected by notoriously harmful products.

Food control, from production to final product, is the State’s responsibility.



Brazil as a country has the most abundant and varied flora of the entire planet. 

Let us look at some data:

In 1960,  50 % of new prescriptions given out by U.S. doctors came from chemicals originally obtained from plants and animals. (1)

In 1973, a study covering all prescriptions in the U.S.ª showed that 25% contained unmodified higher plant elements, 13% contained microbe products and 3% were animal-derived. (2)

Each time a new drug is discovered, medical practices change.  Some examples are: The impact of curare on surgery, of reserpine in psychiatric treatment, the discovery of penicillin for the treatment of infectious diseases, the use of anticoagulants cumarinicos in the treatment of coronary diseases.

The economic potential of our flora and fauna is several times superior to that of the exploitation of wood, which can be extracted from any given area for a maximum of 20 years, leaving only pasture lands or deserts in aftermath.

Medicinal plants can relieve pain and illness.

Research on such highly varied natural products is more likely to lead to the discovery of new drug prototypes that can be clinically useful.

The cost of the discovery of a new prototypical drug from natural products was estimated at 100 times less than the cost of the discovery of a prototypical drug of synthetic origin. (2)

A forest takes millions of years to take shape, whereas a desert only takes 50. Let us give the example of Rio Grande do Sul, the greatest experience of recent years. The gauchos, in their re-location, have silted up swamplands with the disoriented agriculture they are carrying out at the source of their rivers.  In addition to this, of course, we must also not forget the effects of prospecting for precious metals. 

We must protect this wealth, which should remain at the service of the community.

We should promote the use of medicinal plants, soberly tested on populations that in dealing with illness have not been in contact with chemical medications, whether this is due to cultural factors or to the abandon or inefficiency of the health system. 

The aberration of the actions of army doctors, lacking experience even in “official medicine”, who apply chemical therapies to indigenous peoples who do not even speak Portuguese and then go on to fill out service reports, would be comical if it were not tragic. 

The community of health professionals should be educated in the knowledge that plants act efficiently (and very much so!), drawing energy directly from the sun rather than from petrochemicals.

In the People’s Republic of China, government policies impose the use of  native plant products in the treatment of disease wherever and whenever they are known to be effective.  Synthetic drugs are used only when plant products are lacking or are not known to be effective in disease control.

This policy:

1) preserves petrochemical resources.

2) reduces health system costs.

3) emphasizes the cultural heritage of Chinese medicine based on natural products and on acupuncture.

4) makes the country less dependent on foreign manufactured drugs and, in consequence.

5) facilitates a positive trade balance. (3)

Ethno-pharmacological research as well as more research on chemical therapies (remember vinblastine /vincristine) should be encouraged.

It is necessary to set up an efficient patent system for products discovered through this research, in order to protect the research invested therein and to make it economically attractive.

The authors gaining in credit and remuneration, and the country, in revenues and health.

Of course, the viewpoint presented in the paragraph above is that of the dominant society.  For obvious reasons, it is imperative to protect minority cultures from the impact of this society; they should also be recognized as repositories of accumulated age-old knowledge.

The Amazon rainforests without its Indians, its tappers and its healers, is like an unknown language for which we possess no dictionary.

The potential of this research is many times superior to that of space research, as well as much easier and more immediate.  It is the State’s responsibility to protect this potential and the resources that are behind it, fomenting their viability.

(1) Grosselin, R.A. 1962.  The status ot natural products in the American pharmaceutical market.  Lloydia,25:241-243.

(2) Farnaworth, N and.R. Bingei, A.S. 1977.  Problems and prospects of discovering new drugs from higher piants by pharmacoiogicai screening. ln Wagner, H. and Woff, P., ed.  New natural products and plant drugs wfth pharmacoiogical, biolog@, or therapeudcai activfty: 1-22.  Springer Vedag, Bedin.

(3) Majone, M.H. 1980.  Common probiems encoutered in ethnopharmacologicai investigations and how to solve them.  VI Simpósio de plantas medicinais do Brasil: 19-31.



Migrations are the result of social, strategic and economic policies, with consequences that to a large extent we are unable to foresee.

3.1 Prospecting

As they push the country’s frontiers onwards, the prospectors, “shirtless” Brazilians, are thrown into conflict with the age old inhabitants of the rainforests, in the case of the Amazon, promoting the genocide of the latter.  

In this process, they bring sexually transmitted diseases, change the ecosystem, and create new health problems:

a) the Yanomami Indian case is a good example of what is has been happening, and of the extent to which the Ministry of Health and other State institutions have been lax;

b) the emergence of forms of malaria that are resistant to conventional medications, and of hepatitis B, A and E, among others;

c) the decimation of the indigenous population due to tuberculosis, oncocercose, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the others mentioned above.

Mineral exploitation, which involves the use of mercury, directly contaminating the people who work in it as well as the entire fluvial basin, which then proceeds to effect the food chain and thus completes the cycle of health hazards that extends over more than half of the country.

Another aspect of this process involves the exchange of gold for cocaine that goes on directly in prospecting territory, or the exchange of gold for money that has been earned through drug dealing.

In summary:

a) the impact of migrations on groups with different kinds of resistance;

b) prospectors suffering mercury poisoning;

c) the contamination of the fluvial basin and the entire food chain;

d) tropical diseases transmitted by vectors;

e) sexually transmitted diseases;

f) drug traffic.

Since vectors are common to all of Brazil’s varying regions, we can expect these illnesses to spread, even into urban centers, unless the process is brought to a halt.

3.2  Rural exodus

The agrarian policies that were put into practice in 1970, stimulating monoculture for exportation, lead to the development of a day labor system in the countryside (the boia fria) and to the rural population’s exodus toward the large cities.

In consequence: the 30 million abandoned minors we encounter on city street corners.

The life conditions to which these children are subjected propitiates a wide variety of types of contact, making an AIDS epidemic possible.

Such a possibility should be researched and acted upon now.

The task of providing education, through the creation of “farm schools” and other activities that can place restraints on this process is urgent and is a State responsibility.

State responsibilities do not only include the use of electronic media but, undoubtedly, the implantation of routine detection tests:

a) In the organs of judiciary power, such as the FEBEM.  This task should be carried out by health professionals, trained and educated for the work, and should be done independently from judiciary staff, given the ethical factors involved and the absence of treatment in the case of positive test results.

The goal is to educate, and to bring more health and productivity to children and minors.

b) In the public health system (SUDS), in pre-natal care, post-operation exams and all other places where access is available.

In the case of positive test results, known only after detection efforts have been fulfilled, decisions regarding what is to be done must be well thought out; currently existing ways of dealing with the problem are unsatisfactory. 



4.1 Water

This is a resource that is of fundamental importance to the community and must be protected.  Those municipalities that have reservoirs should receive royalties from those who benefit from them, thus eliminating the economic need for industrialization that puts them at risk.  Both protection and control of water that is consumed should be public health activities.

4.2 Sewage

The treatment and differentiation of waste should be carried out in order to remedy the pollution of rivers and oceans.

Brazilian beaches are the breeding grounds for dermatological problems, hepatitis and other health hazards.

Elegant tourist complexes dump raw sewage on beaches, in connivance with the State.

In Rio de Janeiro, a raw sewage dump has become a spot for social gathering.

Residential, industrial and hospital waste do not undergo treatment, constituting particular forms of health hazards.

Control and treatment should be linked to the Ministry of Health and the Secretariat of Energy, given the fact that treatment plants produce methane.

4.3 Garbage and waste

Urban waste:

a) Residential- cities are unprepared to deal with public sanitation services. This begins with the problem of garbage collection, where faulty route planning, and the lack of equipment and trained prevail, and ends with problems of disposal.  Of the 4,300 existing municipalities in the country, 4, 250 have serious problems regarding the disposal of solid residues from urban homes.

Questions of waste disposal should be considered a priority in areas where housing reservoirs and other sources of water.

In the areas that supply water to the city of Curitiba, for example, only 39% of all waste is collected, while the rest remains at the bottom of the valleys, in empty lots*.

b) Hospital waste – this is often of an infectious or contagious nature, yet is disposed of with the same equipment that is used for residential collection.  The presence of radioactive materials, such as cesium from Goiânia, demonstrate the need for work in this area.

c) Industrial waste - not always from urban areas, but always involving the dumping of chemical waste in rivers, the sea and the air, damaging the entire ecosystem.

The State should assume decisive responsibility in this area, demanding pollution controls that include shutting industries down. This would stimulate the environmental control industry which today is quite lucrative. Brazil need not be the slowest in this respect.

The Hoffman-La Roche firm, a chemical industry based in Basil, Switzerland, that is well-known for its manufacture of medications, contaminated the Reno river two years ago.  Fines applied and suits carried out after the fact are of little avail.

Control over products that enter the country, independent of their use, should be rigid, rational and not based on plans developed in distant countries. 

Legal sanctions for tax evasion have been approved, and should be widened to include those who poison or do damage to the ecosystem in any form.

d) Ports – It has become common for us to bathe in the ocean and come out of the water covered with oil residues. Treatment stations that deal with ship waste should be created, rather than disposing the wastes and cleaning products into the sea. The creation or promotion of these stations is the State’s responsibility, impeding the arrival or departure of boats not meeting sanitation standards. Stations maintaining control systems with strict fines would solve the problem.

e) Atomic wastes – as cited above, there is a problem with cesium, which is a by-product of hospital waste.

We should also point to the problem of the atomic bomb, located in the densest population center of the country, at the Pedra Podre plant in Angra dos Reis, and whose control systems are notoriously precarious and obsolete; there are in fact leakages and no existing evacuation plans.

Decisions as to where to locate radioactive materials treatment plants – which until recently were kept secret – and radiation control over the whole national territory, as well as publicly available research into its causes – is a vital security matter for society.

The Ministry of Health has to enforce a “Health” formula, which is clearly facilitated through the use of clean energy. The planned implantation of superconductors could provide an equation for the nation’s energy problems, especially if decentralized and made self-sufficient.

f) Agriculture - chemical fertilizers and pesticides come in containers which are thrown in to the rivers or mixed with residential waste.

*There is the study: Plan for the Sanitary Recovery of Rio Iguaçu, elaborated in 1983, by Nicolao Inthon Rjuppel for the Coordination of the Metropolitan Region of Curitiba (COMEC).

4.4 Urban drainage

In addition to physical damage – the flooding - drainage is linked to the ovipositors in the aquatic environment.

In the Itajaí valley, deforestation at the sources of the rivers caused the silting up of rivers, but urban drainage, sewage and other waste materials caused the most recent floods in the region, with dramatic consequences in terms of loss of human life, material damages, and diseases.


a) Garbage is individual pollution that becomes a collective problem in which each and every one of us should participate; investment in technical means to alleviate the problem is fundamental;

b) Recycling is a must, and involves:

    I) Recycling of inorganic garbage, which means removing voluminous deposits in order to increase the life of landfills threefold;

    II) Recycling organic waste means facilitating its bio-digestion before sending it on to the landfills. In this way, flies, rats and cockroaches will not find a place to live and reproduce therein; waters will not be polluted by animal fats and the quality of the air will not be ruined by gases.

In addition to this, recycling permits the economic sustenance of these processes, since recycled materials can be sold.

Attention should be paid to the "Lixo que não é lixo" program run by Curitiba’s City Government. It promotes the separation and recycling of urban wastes and has proven to be a widely accepted and endorsed form of popular education.



a) Petroleum derivatives used in motor vehicles.

b) Heavy metals used in gasoline and other fuels that poison our nervous system.

c) Products given off by industrial processes.

d) Products that destroy the ozone layer.

e) The noise levels in cities, airports, etc.

f) Cigarettes and other habits that interfere in the health of people other than the immediate user.



The Ministry of Health should be a reliable source of information and decision-making.

The excessive use of methanol as a fuel took place as a result of a lack of technical information.  We know that in Sweden, the Scania Vabis firm is testing a bus that uses methanol fuel to substitutes more polluting fossil fuels.



The action of the Ministry of Health, which should be based on consciousness of existing dynamics, cannot be unless joined by other sectors of society.

Responsibility should be shared with the community, which in turn should be educated and conscious enough to act as a force that is capable of exerting pressure.

Diverse segments of the State should also act together, since tasks are all interrelated.

Products used within the country should be under strict control.  No type of medication or chemical product should be sold or utilized without adequate testing and controls.

The Ministry of Health should create the necessary conditions so that this control is scientifically exercised.

We have to stop absorbing things that other countries have discarded for our foods and medications.

We need to contact ethno-botanic and chemical research, creating an effective patenting system that preserves and rewards the research that is carried out.

Incentives for industries in the combat of pollution should be generated by the serious and rigorous action of the State.

Attention must be paid to migration, both in terms of conflicts between population groups and the dissemination of diseases, so that there are some forms of controlling the self-producing bacteriological war.