Amid the celebration of two decades dedicated to conserving biodiversity through a public health lens, conservationists are contending with mounting issues.
The expanding population around protected areas, coupled with the escalating impacts of climate change, casts a shadow over the accomplishments in biodiversity conservation.
Led by Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, a distinguished wildlife veterinarian, and her organization Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), conservationists are working to devise a lasting solution to address these challenges.
Zikusoka expressed the goal of further integrating the One Health approach into wildlife and biodiversity conservation during discussions with journalists at the media center.
In the quest for a solution, Zikusoka shared, “I started working… keep on growing,” emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach. Wildlife, particularly gorillas, serves as Uganda’s primary source of tourism revenue, with gorilla tracking alone generating over $50 billion annually.
However, Dr. Zikusoka highlights the threat to their habitat due to the growing population of surrounding communities.
The inspiration for CTPH’s approach traces back to the Gorilla Scabies outbreak, which claimed the life of a baby gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The disease was traced back to a local community adjacent to the park, leading to the launch of an initiative to simultaneously protect wildlife, its habitat, and human populations.
CTPH aligns its activities with the One Health approach outlined by the World Health Organization, aiming to prevent the spread of diseases among humans, domestic and wild animals, as well as plants.
Zikusoka pointed out, “Communities living in the remote areas on the outskirts of protected areas are some of the most impoverished and marginalized in Uganda.” She highlighted grim everyday realities such as land encroachment, competition for food, and the spread of zoonotic diseases perpetuating poverty and poor health.
Addressing the situation, George Oweyesigire, the head of wildlife conservation for the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, acknowledged the hindrance caused by climate change-induced weather variations to conservation efforts and tourism.
He commended CTPH’s strides in conservation and mentioned ongoing efforts within the ministry to update conservation policies in line with emerging trends.
Dr. Musa Ssekamatte, manager of the one-health approach in the Ministry of Health, emphasized the pivotal role of protecting wildlife, particularly animals like gorillas, to sustain tourism.
Given the genetic similarities between these animals and humans, disease transmission remains a significant concern. Ssekamatte stressed, “Many diseases affecting humans are zoonotic, and preventing their spread from the surroundings of protected areas is crucial in halting their transmission.”
The collective efforts of organizations like CTPH, coupled with policy revisions and a focus on the One Health approach, are essential in addressing the complex challenges posed by rapid population growth and climate change.
This collaborative approach ensures a sustainable balance between conservation and public health.