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Our goal is a world where gorillas and other wildlife are healthy and their habitats are secure, and where they co-exist with healthy communities. This project improves the health and hygiene of people living in proximity to gorillas to reduce the likelihood of spread of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19, common flu, tuberculosis, scabies, intestinal worms and dysentery. This is done through promoting good hygiene and sanitation practices: clean pit latrines, hand-washing facilities, drinking boiled water, and encouraging community members to call the Gorilla Guardians to herd back gorillas when they forage in community land. The project will promote positive attitudes towards conservation, share information on sustainable livelihood options, and dispel myths and misconceptions, e.g., around eating bush meat considered to be medicinal. By improving people’s health and knowledge, dependence on natural resources to meet basic needs will decrease, further reducing threats to gorillas resulting from people entering the forest.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to 43% of the remaining 1,063 endangered mountain gorillas and is one of two remaining strongholds for the species. Surrounded by some of the poorest communities in Uganda, with very limited access to health and social services, the park and its wildlife are under serious threat from human activity.
Sharing 98.4% DNA with humans, mountain gorillas are highly susceptible to human diseases. Poor health, hygiene and sanitation amongst community members living in proximity with the gorillas, coupled with increasing pressure for natural resources and increased contact between the gorillas and people, poses a major risk for transmission of human diseases to the gorillas.
Conservation Through Public Health engages community volunteers under the mandate of the Ministry of Health and trains them to become Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs) who offer integrated health and conservation communication and health service provision to households and community members. These VHCTs help to increase access to key health services and empower community members to live healthier lives; in so doing, they help to reducie the risk of zoonotic disease transmission between people and wildlife – including, for example, COVID-19.
We recently launched a ‘Model Household’ initiative to highlight what community members can do to best ensure their own health and wellbeing while living alongside wildlife. By following this model, the health of community members will improve and threats to the mountain gorillas caused by zoonotic diseases, illegal activity and poaching will be reduced.
Conservation Through Public Health hopes to transform all households around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park into ‘model households’ that follow our recommendations, including practicing sustainable agriculture, adopting alternative livelihoods, reproductive health, investing in proper sanitation, and prioritizing wildlife conservation, creating a visible impact in these communities. To do so, we will engage 270 community volunteers we work with, called Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs), operating in the parishes surrounding the national park to promote healthier behaviors, through peer-to-peer behavior change communication, thus empowering families to thrive in sustainable coexistence with wildlife and the environment.
The overall objective of the project is to reduce threats to the survival of the endangered mountain gorillas through:
1. Training 270 Village Health and Conservation Teams in our ‘model household’ approach which improves household health and wellbeing and reduces threats to mountain gorillas.
2. Sensitizing community leaders in the parishes in our community health approach to ensure wide buy-in and support.
3. Equipping 270 VHCTs with information education and communication materials, such as posters and brochures to support behaviour change communication and information dissemination amongst households.
4. Providing mentoring and supporting supervision for VHCTs.