A Strategic Holistic Approach to Meeting Peoples Needs for Health for Greater Environmental and Social Impact

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There are strong linkages between biodiversity conservation and human health, the health of domestic animals, and ecosystem health. People and nature co-exist together with numerous benefits recorded from having a harmonious relationship. Focusing on the synergies between human health and ecosystem health and including a wide spectrum of development and conservation targets, such as the sustainable management of natural resources, improved livelihoods, food security, and nutrition, can lead to more effective biodiversity conservation while simultaneously improving conditions for local people.

The Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG) Population, Health and Environment (PHE) working group provides methodological guidance to advance a vision that incorporates health outcomes into biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

On November 21, 2019, PHE members planned a PHE Experts meeting in Washington USA. More than 20 health, development and conservation experts provided insights, research and evidence on the benefits of integrated Population, Health and Environment programs for the African context, recognizing that human population growth is a main threat to biodiversity loss in sub-Saharan Africa.

ABCG PHE Experts Workshop held at WWF-US November 21 2019The objectives of the meeting were to better articulate the key assumptions that could be tested over time and/or learning questions that could be tracked and/or ways of measuring the concept and/or best practices on how to effectively implement such complex projects. The group explored key questions about why PHE integration is so important to address human population growth and conservation and how to better measure the benefits or value added of these approaches. The experts shared lessons from projects in Madagascar and Tanzania about how communities are adopting better conservation or natural resource management practices if they are integrated with family planning and PHE approaches.

Three presentations framed the current thinking on PHE approaches:

  • Kristen Patterson from Population Reference Bureau gave an overview of the PACE Project’s accomplishments providing country support to high priority family planning countries with capacity building, knowledge management, and policy advocacy, which complement the ABCG PHE task objectives.
  • Laura Robson from Blue Ventures presented a brief overview of their latest research on PHE in Madagascar, which unpacked assumptions around PHE programming in coastal environments.
  • Cheryl Margoluis from Pathfinder International shared lessons from the PHE work in Tanzania about how communities will adopt better conservation or natural resource management practices if they are integrated with family planning and PHE approaches.

Following the presentations, the group explored one of the fundamental assumptions of the value of PHE projects – that there are synergistic benefits to implementing and cross-sectoral “integrated” approach to meet human and ecosystem health outcomes. Over the past 20 years, many health and conservation organizations have implemented PHE projects and conducted research to demonstrate these benefits or value added. Nevertheless, both conservation community and donor agencies are recognizing a consistent knowledge gap and lack of consensus on why we integrate health activities into conservation projects; what added benefits are expected (and are realistic), and how exactly integrated PHE leads to improved conservation outcomes (the Theory of Change).

Participants agreed by the end of the workshop to use the following definition for developing the ABCG PHE reference sheet in 2020. “A strategic holistic approach to meeting people’s needs for health including reproductive health and maintaining restoring ecosystem services for greater environmental and social impact at multiple levels”.

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