The story of Conservation Through Public Health
Mountain gorillas are found in the mountainous rainforests that stretch across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sadly, due to a combination of disease, habitat encroachment, and poaching, these magnificent creatures are now critically endangered with an estimated 880 individuals left in the wild. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in Southwestern Uganda, is home to an estimated half of the world’s remaining population. However, living around the park, in close proximity to the gorillas, are some of the country’s poorest and most isolated communities. These people have limited access to basic healthcare, and other social services, relying on the park’s natural resources to feed their families. Due to this, and because we share 98.4% of our DNA with gorillas, the risk of disease spread between humans and gorillas is a real and present danger.
Nevertheless, all is not lost. Read on to hear all about Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a Ugandan NGO that is working hard to address this threat at the frontline.
Following two harmful scabies skin disease outbreaks in Bwindi gorillas that were traced back to the local communities living around the park, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, then working as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA)’s first veterinary officer, decided to take matters into her own hands. The result was the 2003 founding of CTPH. For the last 14 years, CTPH has been implementing its unique and innovative conservation strategy – protecting gorillas by improving human health. Its vision? A future where wildlife, people and livestock can coexist in harmony.
CTPH has three integrated programs that help it to achieve its ambitious goal: wildlife conservation, community health and alternative livelihoods.
CTPH conducts gorilla health-monitoring to address the threat of cross-species disease spread, working with UWA field staff to collect gorilla dung samples and then analysing them for diseases in the Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Centre. Gorilla samples are analysed together with samples from neighbouring people and livestock, to prevent and control cross species disease transmission and outbreaks through timely treatments.
One of the biggest challenges faced by poor communities living around the national park is access to basic healthcare. To address this, CTPH created a network of Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs) built upon the Ministry of Health structure of Village Health Teams.
VHCTs are made up of community volunteers that make health services more accessible through household visits and village talks, making referrals and providing education on healthcare issues. They also give talks to the local communities about the importance of conservation and its linkages to healthcare. By having healthier communities, the risk of disease spread to gorillas is reduced.
The third key strategy by which CTPH conserves mountain gorillas is through its new social enterprise, Gorilla Conservation Coffee started with support from WWF Switzerland. Gorilla Conservation Coffee provides alternative livelihoods to farmers living near Bwindi by purchasing their Arabica coffee at a premium price while training them in good agricultural and processing practices.
Having a steady market for coffee reduces the farmers’ need to enter the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to look for food and firewood to feed their families. This in turn protects the mountain gorillas and their habitat. Furthermore $1.50 of every kilogram of Gorilla Conservation Coffee purchased is donated to support CTPH’s critical health and conservation work.
Gorilla Conservation Coffee can be purchased at tourism lodges, Banana Boat, Cantine DiVino, Jumia online, Lake Heights Hotel, gift shops at Victoria and Imperial Mall and Transit Duty Free Shop in Entebbe International Airport,