Written By Gilbert Kidimu
It is hard to believe that our existence as humans largely depends on the countless wild animals, birds, insects, amphibians and other creatures we share with this planet. While some people do not care for the wild that much, natural world experts reason that wildlife is a part of the earth’s ecosystem.
It functions on the basis that everything, from the smallest organisms to the largest mammals, is connected and operates as a unit. Breaking part of the eco connection by allowing a species to become extinct not only damages the earth’s ecosystem, but also endangers humanity’s very existence.
With that in mind, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), an NGO, has for the past 10 years worked towards ensuring that Uganda’s wildlife is kept safe from harm and given the right environment to thrive.
Their goal is to improve the lives of people living around game reserves. CTPH conducts programmes to protect gorillas and other wildlife from human and livestock disease. They also prevent disease transmission from wildlife to humans and livestock to increase the local use of family planning.
The NGO also aims at using information technology to help locallevel development and educate people about the environment. As a result, the number of gorillas in Uganda has increased and the tourism sector is bringing in more foreign revenue than before and in the process becoming a source of employment to thousands of Ugandan citizens. Today, CTPH is celebrating 10 years of existence.
“We want to use this opportunity to let more people know about our activities, thank and encourage our partners and interest new ones,” says Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder and CEO of CTPH. The guest of honour, who also serves as CTPH’s patron is Her Royal Highness, Queen Sylvia Nagginda the Nnabagereka of Buganda.
This celebration also comes after CTPH became the first Ugandan organisation to win the GDN 2012 Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project (MIDP).
It was commended for improving service delivery through scaling up the Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCT) and Village Savings and Loan associations (VSLA) approach. “Winning the 2012 Japanese Most Innovative Development Project Award has been one of the most significant achievements since we founded CTPH,” Kalema- Zikusoka explains.
The winning project was Integrated Biodiversity Conservation, Health and Community Development around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, SW Uganda. The GDN panel reasoned that it demonstrated the most innovative model that can sustain environmental, social, and economic development in Uganda and beyond. Launched in 2000 with the support of the Government of Japan, this competition seeks to unearth new talent and support innovative ideas on development. Nearly 7,200 researchers representing more than 100 countries throughout the developing and transition world have applied for this competition to date.
In 2011 alone, the competition received 800 submissions. The competition specifically targets emerging researchers and development practitioners from developing countries and economies. The main purpose of the competition is to channel funds to where other types of funding cannot reach.
Kalema-Zikusoka says scaling their activities to other locations and ecosystems within Uganda and the region is a key focus of CTPH’s new five year strategic plan.
“We plan to improve the nutrition of people by using cow dung to make fertilisers for the garden for better yields to fill their food baskets,’ she says. Kalema-Zikusoka adds that some of the long-term goals are focussing on sustainability. “We are considering a cooler system for milk and all animal products and getting biogas out of cow excrement.
When there is enough milk, farmers shall have enough to keep some for the family hence a healthy livelihood .
Protecting wildlife and improving human life
Many times, people living around game reserves come in contact with wild animals. Like other animals, wild animals get diseases and some of these diseases can be transmitted to humans. Human beings also can carry diseases that can infect the wild animals. Because of this, Uganda Wildlife Authority discourages direct contact with wildlife.
Over the years, we have learnt that there are some diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis that are shared by both animals and man,” says Steven Rubanga, the founder and programme officer with Animal Health Technical. He adds that sadly, people living around game reserves do not know the signs until they are tested and diagnosed. Rift valley fever, foot and mouth disease are shared by both cattle and buffalos.
Since these animals share the same grazing ground, the disease spread is wide. In 1996 and 2000, there was an outbreak of scabies in one of the habitation sites. When samples were taken and sent abroad, it was discovered that the parasites originated from human beings.
The outbreaks led to the formation of Community Health Programme to promote hygiene and sanitation plus treating diseases. “We work with community health care volunteers to create change in behaviour; we also do livestock training in husbandry and health,” Rubanga explains.
He adds that a survey on hygiene and sanitation discovered that some families lived with their animals and shared sources of water with the wild ones. “We set up CTPH because we are concerned about disease transmission at the Human- Livestock interface; diseases such as scabies are easily transmitted from humans to animals and vice versa,” Rubanga says. Three programmes were thus set up, one of them being Wild Life Health Monitoring (research clinic).
Livestock and human Samples are collected to learn what they are suffering from and then treatment. People around the game parks can now report any case of sickness to the wild life authority; it is a form of monitoring to look out for diseases that could spill over from the animals to humans or the other way round.
Increasing income People living around protected areas in Uganda are among the poorest and most marginalised rural communities. They have limited access to basic social services including healthcare, education and training on livelihood options. Some of these areas have important biodiversity including critically endangered and charismatic wildlife, like the mountain gorillas whose population recently increased to 880.
Improving access to basic social services and livelihoods is a requirement for both people and wildlife co-existence. To address the issue of sustaining Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs), a big challenge to the Ministry of Health and supporting NGOs, in 2009, CTPH provided bicycles to the first set of VHCTs in Kanungu District, an intervention, which was adopted in 2011 by the health ministry for all Village Health Teams. Another incentive on the request of the volunteers was group livestock income generating projects.
“We get them high breeds, which provide higher yields of milk and meat. They do not have to keep a big number of animals,” Rubanga explains. In Bwindi, a system from Queen Elizabeth was replicated where volunteer trainers’ allowances were increased when they were given improved breed livestock. In the Livestock programme in Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth National parks, health workers, veterinary officers, and community volunteers are trained and equipped with basic vet knowledge.