Demonstrating the impact of PHE to the Ugandan Government
Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) is a Ugandan-based non-profit and nongovernmental organization (NGO) that promotes biodiversity conservation by enabling people, wildlife and livestock to coexist through improving their health and livelihoods in and around Africa’s protected areas. CTPH was founded in 2003 and since 2007 have been implementing the Village Health and Conservation Team (VHCT) model, an integrated population, health and environment (PHE) approach, in communities bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda.
In March 2017, CTPH invited technical staff from the National Population Council Secretariat (NPCS), Ministry of East African Community Affairs (MEACA) and Ministry of Water and Environment (MOWE) on a study tour to see CTPH PHE programs in action. CTPH, government partners and other stakeholders are all members of the Uganda National PHE Network, or NAPHENET, which aims to improve sustainable management of natural resources, create resilient ecosystems, provide sustainable livelihoods and realize a health population. The CTPH approach is considered a best practice PHE model in Uganda and the trip was an opportunity to share with the Ugandan government representatives some best practices and lessons learned while discussing challenges to inform the National PHE Strategic Plan for Uganda.
Overall the representatives were impressed with CTPH’s work, which has achieved many accomplishments in the past 10 years to improve conservation and health for people, the endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife at an important biodiversity hotspot with high human population densities. The teams agreed to collaborate on monitoring and evaluation and share indicators to track the impact of PHE programs. The group also advised CTPH to adapt the program to address climate change through adaptation and mitigation activities as this is a priority for the Ugandan government.
The team visited the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offices where they met with Mr. Chemonges Mongea, the Senior Warden of Tourism. CTPH and UWA have successfully implemented joint conservation activities including community conservation education and gorilla health monitoring through faecal sample collection to test for zoonotic diseases that may threaten the gorillas and people. The CTPH and UWA collaboration has resulted in more people in the surrounding communities trained in health and how to live in harmony and balance with the mountain gorillas and the national park. The message was clear: civil society and government partnerships work and are essential to NAPHENET strategy.
The team then travelled to meet with Sam Rugaba, the VHCT chairperson of Bujengwe Parish. Sam is one of CTPH’s longest serving VHCTs who oversees 15 VHCTs serving 11 villages in the Parish. Since the program, Sam has seen an increase of family planning users from 20% to 75%. He also spoke highly of the sustainability programs of the CTPH model, where VHCTs are given an income generating project such as livestock and invest their money into VHCT Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). Because of these activities, Sam has been able to maintain his commitment as a VHCT despite there being no salary. The VHCT model to improve community attitudes towards family planning and conservation is both effective and sustainable.
On the second day of the tour, the group set off to track the famous mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The first encounter with the gorillas left the group with a feeling of excitement and awe. Before the trip they did not know that humans and gorillas share 98% of their DNA genetic material, nor did they know how easily diseases can be transmitted between the two groups. Spending an hour with the gorillas reinforced that protecting biodiverse conservation areas requires good stewardship and action from the grassroots to the highest levels of government.
The successful study tour renewed commitments to collaborate between implementers and policymakers. CTPH is a valuable partner of NPCS, MEACA, MOWE and other NAPHENET partners and together PHE best practices are being shared to scale up this innovative and sustainable approach to development around the country.