Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a veterinary doctor, a wife, mother of two boys. She is a board member at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Uganda Wildlife Education Centre and an award winner for her conservation work. Ten years ago, she founded CTPH (Conservation Through Public Health), a non-governmental organisation that helps secure the health of endangered species while extending community-based health services to some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people.
The NGO recently won a major conservation award, just as CTPH prepared to celebrate its first anniversary. Teddy Nakyanja spoke to Dr Kalema about her love for the wild, and about CTPH.
What inspired you to set up CTPH?
I was a veterinary doctor for UWA treating gorillas. One day, a mature gorilla died of scabies in one group outside the park and just after two years, another outbreak occurred. This time the gorillas survived. Because gorillas go into peoples’ premises, these people can catch diseases from the gorillas, as at least 94 per cent of gorillas is humanlike. And (yet these) people’s lives depend on these gorillas since they bring in tourists.
I saw a great concern to protect both people and animals; I came out as a lead to fight this ignored cause. I decided to visit communities so as to get people’s views. Also at least 25 per cent of humans in Bwindi had chronic coughs; this also encouraged me to set up CTPH.
How do you cope with the financial situation if a donor pulls out?
The truth is that it has been and is still tough. There is this global crisis and the same people in this crisis are the donors, so it has been tough indeed. Nevertheless, we are looking on developing sustainable financing.
In Bwindi, we have set up community health programme volunteers in villages. [These include] conservation teams that educate people about different diseases and refer them to hospitals for proper medication.
What is the way forward for CTPH?
The major strategies are two: We are developing approaches in Bwindi to be adopted by other people. We want to set up a proper study site scaling out other projects around Uganda and the world. We bought land where we want to put a diagnosis and education study centre, because we are in temporary housing at the moment.
Secondly, (we want) to work with other organisations like UWA and go to other places of advocacy; and with other developed NGOs: for example, with VETCO, [which] deals in agriculture; ecological Christian organisation, Human and Gorilla Conflict Resolution (HUGO), Lake Victoria Organisation plus others. We want the government to come in and chair this cause. If the government does not adopt this strategy, it means that we also find difficulty in getting donors.
Family planning is one of your programmes, and your places of operation are mostly rural communities. How is it being received?
Before we started this programme, we did a lot of sensitisation, carried out surveys and visited people’s homes and found out that they had a lot of negativism about family planning.
We decided to work with the churches to convince them because they believed more in their spiritual leaders. We have also gotten a midwife on the team that helps to educate them. We carry out couple peer education because this helps to carry on the message so fast and with ease. Women can now do other things in their daily lives, instead of carrying babies every year.
You have recently won a big award…
It’s called the Japanese Most Innovative Project; it looks at the economic development of people around Asia and Africa, because it is an economic award, many people were wondering why we got this award. CTPH is not economic in making, but it has improved a number of people’s lives by treating them and their animals. This means that people can do economic activities without any disturbances, so this explains why we scooped this economic award.
How do you balance work and family?
It is hectic. You can never balance the two. In most cases, work takes a lot of the time that is why I sometimes carry my sons with me to the field. I carried my first son to the field at just 3 months in Kibaale national park. He is now used to wildlife and I know my sons will take over me.
Apart from your sons, who else do you see in the future?
There are quite a number of volunteers. For example, here is a list of individuals that saved a baby elephant in Kamuhungu village (after it was found) floating on water. Charles Olwenyi, Robert Mugabe, Living Twikirize, Perez Nyabongo, Godfrey Mulemu. I suspect the mother elephant to have been killed by poachers. [The baby elephant] is now being looked after at (UWEC) in Entebbe.
How is Gladys life outside CTPH?
Looking after my two kids. I enjoy swimming, nature and I have also exposed my kids to these. I also go to the cinema, read and visit new places