1.1.  Background

The protection of ecosystem services has the potential to promote poverty alleviation by preserving natural resources for sustainable development, harnessing the value of natural capital through a market-based approach that generates revenue and incentivizes conservation, and providing the poor with social agency through participation in the marketing and maintenance of protected areas (Landell-Mills and Porras, 2002; Miles and Kapos, 2008).  In addition, the management of ecosystem services may have critical implications for mitigating the burden of disease carried by the world’s poor.  The World Health Organization estimates that 23% of all premature deaths can be attributed to environmental factors (Prüss-Üstün, A. and Corvalán, C., 2006).   The diseases with the greatest environmental contributions are also the disorders disproportionately associated with poverty, including:  diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, and malaria. The shifting land use patterns, rising global temperatures, and increasing urbanization associated with global environmental change will likely exacerbate the environmental disease burden, particularly for the most vulnerable populations (Corvalán, C., et al., 2005).

Accounting for specific human health effects in the ecosystem service framework presents an opportunity to design policies that synergistically attain ecological and poverty alleviation agendas.  However, at present, no formal systematic review has aggregated the research linking human epidemiology to ecosystem services.  While the medical community has conducted substantial research on public health interventions (e.g. education campaigns, vaccine development) to target specific diseases linked to poverty, the preventative medicine discourse remains limited and dispersed as to the potential of ecosystem protection for promoting human health.  Reciprocally, the discussion of human health in ecosystem management publications is sparse and tends to be neither spatially, temporally, nor epidemiologically specific.

The aim of this project is to begin to address this void by examining the relationship between deforestation and human disease as a representative of broader trends between ecosystem services and human health and wellbeing.  Using a systematic review, this thesis will attempt to identify the state of current knowledge on the intersections between deforestation and epidemiology, to highlight information gaps in the body of knowledge, and to draw attention to opportunities for collaboration between conservation and public health interventions.

1.2.  Specific objectives

1.2.1.  Aim of the thesis

To evaluate the nature of the human epidemiological impact of deforestation and to consider to what extent this burden of disease should be factored into decisions regarding forest ecosystem management.

1.2.2.  Objectives of the thesis

  1. To aggregate and summarize the current research on how deforestation affects human disease emergence, transmission, and overall burden.
  2. To critically assess the potential role of human health considerations in forest ecosystem management policymaking.
  3. To consider the opportunities for synergies between the protection of forest ecosystem services and the promotion of human health and well being in the context of ecosystem services for poverty alleviation initiatives.

1.2.3.  Primary question of the literature review

To what extent does deforestation affect human disease emergence, transmission, and overall burden?

Table 1.  Defining the components of the systematic review question.

Question Element Definition
Subject Human disease
Intervention Deforestation
Comparator Endemic disease conditions associated with the maintenance of control forest conditions
Outcome Burden of disease

Disease emergence rate

Disease transmission rate

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