Rise in number of children living near Amazon fires being treated in hospital for respiratory problems

In the waiting room of the Cosme and Damiao children’s hospital, Sophia Loren plays with a plaster covering a scrape on her knee. Her mother Regiane Martins clutches an X-ray of the five-year-old’s weakened chest.

The family live in Porto Velho amidst the choking smoke of the Amazon fires. Sophia has asthma and often struggles at this time of year but never as badly as she is doing now.

Regiane Martins clutches an X-ray of her daughter's weaken chest. Credit: ITV News

Regiane is also a primary school teacher. She sees the effects of the fires on her own children and the children she teaches.

“I’m not just worried for Sophia, I worry for my pupils,” she told me. “There has been a real increase in the children who are sick. We can’t just stay inside all the time because of the smoke, we have to go out and the kids have to go to school, but it’s making them ill.”

Sophia Loren,5, has asthma which has been worse than ever this year. Credit: ITV News

Across the waiting room Natalia Antonia Prudencio-Da Silva sits with baby Nicolas. He is a month and a half old with a nasty cough.

She is so frightened for her child she has brought him to the hospital despite the fact it meant leaving the house and exposing him to more smoke. “At night he can’t breathe,” she says. “He has a fever, a cough and is sick. He screams such a lot.”

Dr Daniel Pires tells me that at this time of year a large spike in respiratory conditions is not unusual. The dry heat and burning playing havoc with young and old alike.

Natalia Antonia Prudencio-Da Silva with her six-week-old baby. Credit: ITV News

But 2019 has witnesses an 80% increase in fires. The hospital logs tell of troubled times.

In the first ten days of this month 130 children were treated for respiratory problems. Between the 10th and 20th August, when the smoke was very bad, 380 were sick enough to be sent to hospital.

They all have dry sore throats, infections and trouble breathing. It is down to the weather and the smoke.

Apparently, the smoke is now less bad, but as an adult I can feel my chest tighten after a few minutes outside. The smell is acrid and headache inducing and there seems to be a taste to the air.

The children at the hospital are permanently exposed to these conditions, there will be no escape to cleaner air after a few days for them.

Their childhoods are already being affected by the crisis in the Amazon. It is likely they will feel the effects their whole lives.