In Uganda, Conservation Through Public Health Demonstrates the Population, Health, and Environment Approach in Action
by Rachel Winnik Yavinsky, policy associate, International Programs
Bwindi district is located in the southwest corner of Uganda, about a 12-hour drive from Kampala. The district is the site of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to around 300 of the world’s estimated 740 remaining mountain gorillas. Bwindi’s other residents, the humans who surround the park, face many challenges, including lack of sustainable livelihoods, poor sanitation infrastructure, high fertility rates, and human, wildlife, and livestock conflict. Many of these difficulties are being addressed by a local PRB partner, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). CTPH was originally founded to monitor disease among the gorilla population, and prevent these rare and special animals from acquiring illnesses from the local humans and livestock. Today, CTPH manages a comprehensive and integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) program that seeks to improve the health of humans, livestock, and wildlife, and promotes health and conservation education and cooperation in the communities. PRB has been supporting CTPH for three years to steer the Uganda PHE working group and promote the PHE approach in the region.
I recently joined staff from the Uganda Health Communications Alliance and journalists from many of Uganda’s major news outlets on a study tour of CTPH projects. These study tours aim to help journalists better understand PHE connections and thus improve reporting on population and family planning. We visited CTPH’s Gorilla Research Clinic, where they track the health of local wildlife, and met with CTPH partners, the friendly and passionate staff at the clean and well-stocked Bwindi Community Hospital. CTPH also maintains a partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, which shares CTPH’s mission of protecting the health of gorillas and other wildlife.
I was particularly impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of CTPH’s Community Conservation and Health Volunteers. These men and women were elected from 29 local villages to be educated in conservation and hygiene practices, as well as family planning counseling and service delivery. At a volunteer meeting, it was especially inspiring to speak with Milliam, the wife of a traditional healer and a family planning and PHE champion. She had seven children before she learned about family planning. Now she is a community conservation and health worker, and has talked to her daughters about having two children each so that they can afford to send them all to school. Sam is also an inspiring PHE champion. In addition to educating his community about conservation, sanitation, and hygiene, he is one of the 13 volunteers who have been trained in injection of depo-provera, the most popular modern form of contraception in the area. He encourages couples to come see him together so that he can discuss family planning and other health issues with both husband and wife.
I hope to be able to return to Bwindi soon to see the CTPH program continue to flourish. You can also visit CTPH in Bwindi and stay at their Gorilla Conservation Camp. For more information, visit their website.