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WILDFIRES

Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people’s health?

Dozens of wildfires are currently destroying thousands of hectares of forest and land across Spain, but what impact can they have on your health if you happen to live in a province which is dealing with forest fires?

Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people's health?
Smoke inhalation from wildfires can damage your health. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Forest fires raging across Spain have already broken annual records in terms of hectares destroyed, with another grim milestone for the highest number of wildfires in a single year set to follow.

Just over 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forests in Spain have been lost to fire so far this year, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

As well as wreaking havoc across the local landscapes, they can be particularly damaging to our health too. 

Experts say that even more dangerous than getting burned by the fires themselves, is breathing in the smoke from them. This is in fact the leading cause of death during a fire.

This means even if you’re not actually that near the fire, the smoke in the air can still affect you.

According to the experts, pollutants and smoke particles from wildfires can travel thousands of miles away, so even if you’re in the next town, you may be at some risk.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

What are the effects of smoke inhalation?

If a forest fire is particularly big and rages for a long time, like we have seen this summer in Spain already, then the damage from smoke inhalation can be particularly bad.

Particles from fires are very small – one-third the diameter of your hair, according to the American Lung Association, and can therefore easily get lodged deep in your lungs.

Fumes from these fires can cause coughs, irritated eyes, an itchy nose and scratchy throat. It can also be dangerous for those who are vulnerable and suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma.

Particle pollution can also trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Children, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable when exposed to smoke. It has been found that these people are more likely to get coughs, colds and bronchitis after breathing in fumes from fires.

According to Cristina Martínez, an expert from the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery, smoke is not only dangerous because of the particles it emits, but also because it can raise temperatures further. Smoke alone can cause burns inside your respiratory system, such as in your throat and your lungs.

Remember that if you have inhaled a lot of smoke, you should get checked out by a doctor, even if you feel fine, your insides might not be.

How can I minimise the damage to my health?

Chief fire officer for Madrid Víctor Prieto says that to eliminate these health risks, you should listen to the authorities and stay inside if it’s safe to do so. He also encourages people to close all doors and windows to make sure the smog doesn’t get inside the house.

If you do have to go outside, it’s important to make sure your nose and mouth are covered with a mask, so the air is filtered before you breathe it.

Remember to also always call the emergency services if you spot a forest fire. Even if it’s small, it can quickly get out of control.

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HEALTH

Thousands protest in Spain’s Andalusia in defence of public health services

Thousands of protestors took to the streets across Andalusia in defence of public health services on Saturday, demanding a stop to the deterioration of public services and slow privatisation of the region's healthcare system.

Thousands protest in Spain's Andalusia in defence of public health services

Thousands of people demonstrated in several cities across Andalusia in defence of public health services on Saturday.

The main demonstration was held in Seville, the southern region’s capital, where police say 4,000 people took part. Organisers of the protest put the figure at 20,000.

Up to 400 protesters took to the streets in Cádiz, and around a thousand in Granada, though police claim there were just 200.

Protestors demanded the regularisation of 12,000 “false contracts” given to doctors in the Andalusian Health Service (SAS) who arrived as reinforcements during the pandemic, as well as face-to-face care within 48 hours of requesting an appointment, 12 minutes of care per patient, and the boosting of rural emergency and preventive community care.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is running out of doctors

A spokesman for the event, retired doctor Sebastián Martín, highlighted the support “as never seen before” and pointed out that there are around 2.5 million private health policies in Andalusia, adding that “it is important that civil society stands up to them.”

Adelante Andalucía representative Maribel Mora stressed that “we have to defend public health care whoever governs,” criticising “the deterioration of health care over many years” and adding that “now much more money is going to private health care.”

Toni Valero, spokesmen for the leftist grouping of parties IULV-CA called on the Andalusian president Juanma Moreno to “take note” of the “success” of the demonstration and that Andalusian society had clearly “had enough.”

The protests come just weeks after thousands took to the streets in Madrid in defence of the capital’s public healthcare services.

READ ALSO: Thousands rally in defence of Madrid public healthcare

In Granada, the PSOE health spokesperson in the Andalusian parliament, María Ángeles Prieto, stated that public healthcare “can no longer cope” and that was why thousands of Andalusians have taken to the streets. Prieto demanded the regional government invest in public health and asked Moreno to stop the steady privatisation process and stop “transferring” money from the public to the private sector “so that some people can do business.”

However, Regional Minister of Health Catalina García has denied that there is a “progressive deterioration” in Andalusian healthcare.

She stressed improvements in the last four years, including a supposed 30,000 more professionals in the health sector. “The Andalusian health system, according to objective data, is better than it was four years ago. That is undeniable,” she claimed in a statement.

According to the García, the lack of medical professionals in a national problem affecting health systems in all regions of Spain.

READ ALSO: What is the average waiting time across Spain to see a doctor?

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