Can Health Investments Benefit Conservation and Sustainable Development?

Researchers: E.J. Milner-Gulland, Henry Travers

Period: May 2016 to May 2019

Funder: Darwin Initiative

Collaborators: Conservation through Public Health, IIED, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Jane Goodall Institute

Project Overview

Much of the world's terrestrial biodiversity is situated in protected areas. These areas, however, are often under increasing pressure, driven by high population densities, poverty and often considerable conflict and resentment around the use of resources they seek to protect. In Uganda, local peoples’ perceived injustices, frustrations over intangible benefits from tourism and continued human-wildlife conflict have driven illegal hunting, for example. Building support for conservation, whilst aiming to compensate for the costs it brings, is one of the major challenges protected areas currently face.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Human wildlife-conflict and high population densities also bring another risk – zoonotic disease. One of the largest populations of the endangered mountain gorilla is located in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), Uganda, in one of the poorest and most densely populated regions of Africa.

Local people have severe unmet health needs, which impact on conservation outcomes both directly and indirectly. Directly, frequent interactions between gorillas and local people lead to potentially fatal disease transmission to gorillas, including scabies, viruses, bacteria and intestinal parasites. Indirectly, poor health can lead to an inability to work effectively, poor school attendance and mortality, causing greater dependence on illegal harvesting of park resources, such as, medicinal plants and inability to take up new livelihoods. Improving human health in communities adjacent to protected areas could, therefore, be critical to achieving both conservation and poverty alleviation outcomes.

CTPH use community health workers to provide health outreach linked with conservation messages
CTPH use community health workers to provide health outreach linked with conservation messages

Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) has undertaken a programme of primary health care and conservation education around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for the last eight years. The approach has seen some benefits as numbers of family planning users increase, for example. Whilst the CTPH team has also seen more support for conservation as a result of their work, the evidence for these results is largely anecdotal and the link between the two has not been proven. Neither has the potential general applicability of this approach been evaluated.

Building from the Medical Research Council guidelines for evaluation, we seek to assess this integrated approach to conservation as a replicable model for sustainable development. Using novel techniques, we will examine how the prevalence of illegal behaviours, perceptions of programme participants and health outcomes have been affected by the programme. We will also seek to test the programme’s potential for scalability around two more protected areas in Uganda, where disease is threatening endangered species and resentment resulting from human-wildlife conflict is driving illegal activities.


Summary of planned activities

  • Carry out an evaluation of the ongoing intervention at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, with a focus on using novel techniques to try and examine the impact of the programme on sensitive or illegal behaviours;
  • Provide technical support in the establishment of monitoring and evaluation programmes for the roll-out sites, to try and improve the quality of future evaluations;
  • Engage and communicate our ideas broadly across different media and audiences to ensure maximum impact and learning, both around the use of health investments for conservation, but also around conducting impact evaluations in real world situations.


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