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A place we definitely wanted to visit with our joint team during our most recent Ugandan trip was the field office of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), located in Buhoma Village, a very well-known tourist site for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Their main interest is the conservation of the endangered mountain gorilla through promoting gorilla health and conservation, community health and alternative livelihoods. We were very interested in learning not only how the field office works considering the conservation of the mountain gorilla, but also in finding similarities between them and HWMCO-Nederland & NiCA Foundation with regard to bringing development in general. The idea was to get to know each other and to exchange information and ideas. It turned out to be a very interesting meeting for us all!
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is situated in three districts in Southwestern Uganda: Kanungu District (where CTPH field office in located), Kisoro District, and Kabale District (where NiCA Foundation is registered). The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national park since 1991. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. Many types of birds and butterflies can be found. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a sanctuary for the rare L’hoests monkey, bleu monkey, Colobus monkey, elephants, chimpanzees, baboons, antelopes, and other wildlife, but is most of all known to be home to an estimated half of the world’s currently 1000 endangered mountain gorillas.
History of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)
CTPH is a nonprofit organization that promotes conservation by improving the quality of life of people and wildlife to enable them to coexist in and around protected areas in Africa. The organization was founded in 2003 by Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka together with other concerned Ugandans; they were wondering how the extinction of mountain gorillas could be prevented, after learning that mountain gorilla scabies outbreaks in 1996 and 2002 were linked to people living around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The animals possibly picked up the scabies for the first time in 1996 when they came around dirty clothing in people’s gardens; mites moved from the clothing to the gorilla’s bodies, causing scratching, skin thickening, and white scaly skin. One infant gorilla died, while the rest of the group could be treated with medication and recovered.
This was the first reported case of a disease from people to mountain gorillas.
A few years later, in 2001 and 2002, there was another scabies outbreak, but fortunately there were no deaths because the gorillas were treated in time.
Today, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, as CTPH Founder and Chief Executive Officer(CEO), as well as the first full time veterinarian for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), is one of the leading conservationists and scientists working to save the endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa. She is internationally recognized for her conservation work and currently a finalist for the Tusk award for Conservation in Africa which will take place on 21 November 2019.
Our visit to the CTPH field office in Buhoma
On the day of our scheduled meeting we left Kabale early in the morning, knowing that it was going to be a long journey forth and back. Indeed it became a very long journey, but above that: it became nothing but a beautiful experience! Not long after we had left the main road from Kabale to Kisoro, choosing the direction of Buhoma, we started distinguishing the amazing mist-covered hills because of which Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is known. The further we proceeded on our journey, the more grateful we became for our four wheel drive vehicle! The road changed from a tarmacked road into an at first very accessible, yet further on more and more difficult dirt road. Despite that, we so much enjoyed what we were experiencing! We spotted Colobus monkeys in trees and found groups of Baboons, as well as L’hoest monkeys on and along the road. In combination with the beautiful vegetation and great views it was nothing but amazing and sometimes made us feel as we had ended up in a King Kong scene.
After a trip of several hours we finally reached the CTPH field office where we found ourselves warmly welcomed by Alex Ngabirano and his team. Alex is the Bwindi Field Office Manager and Community Field Officer. A native of the Bwindi Community and having worked with CTPH since 2005, he has certificates in public health and is in charge of the field coordination of the Village Health and Conservation Team (VHCT) community volunteer networks at Bwindi. Their focus is on educating and strengthening family planning, while they also have education campaigns on the links between conservation, disease, family planning, livelihoods and ecotourism.
What followed was a wonderful conversation where we exchanged information about our foundations, HWMCO-Nederland & NiCA Foundation, and CTPH. Veterinary technician Nahabwe Enos (left) told us about how CTPH promotes gorilla health and conservation, and Alex Ngabirano shared about his work and how CTPH promotes community health.
The cross transmission of diseases between people, gorillas and livestock is monitored and prevented through regular collection of fecal samples from night nests and fresh trails of mountain gorillas. Samples of habituated (used to the presence of humans) gorillas are more frequently checked than samples of non-habituated gorillas. The samples, which can be linked to individual gorillas are brought in by trained rangers, trackers and field assistants, and analyzed for parasites, bacteria and other disease causing organisms by CTPH veterinary technicians. Findings and eventual recommendations are shared with UWA and health organizations.
When a gorilla is found deceased also pathological analyzations are performed to find the cause of its death and to detect possible threats for other gorillas.
How CTPH promotes community health
CTPH, through the above mentioned VHCT’s, sensitizes communities on essential issues like the need to have manageable families, so that adequate health care, food and education can so much better be provided. The VHCT’s have been trained to distribute modern contraceptive methods that make family planning both accessible and available for marginalized community members around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park whose capacity to manage their own fertility used to be limited by a lack of awareness and scarce contraception available to them.
Alex shared with us a wonderful visual presentation that he uses when visiting primary schools to bring more awareness to young children about the importance of manageable families. By using drawings, the living circumstances of a poor family with many children are compared with those of a more prosperous family that has only a maximum of four children.
It has clearly been proven that reduced family rates have not only benefits for family income and health in general, but also for gorilla conservation and environmental sustainability.
As a striking result of efforts the uptake of voluntary family planning has increased among women in the Bwindi communities from 22% in 2007 to 67% in 2017, where the national average increased from 24% to 48% in the same period!
Other issues communities are sensitized on by the VHCT’s are for example the importance of gorillas and forest conservation, sustainable agriculture, tree planting and environment. Due to the awareness that is brought, the number of households planting trees and using energy efficient stoves has increased and a reduction in human-wildlife conflict around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is seen.
More improvements are seen because of the programs of CTPH through the VCTH’s. The number of households with pit latrines has increased from 77% to 98% and there is an increase in adoption of hand washing facilities outside the pit latrines. Also, there have been improvements in the recognizing and finding cure for malnutrition, TB, scabies, and other diseases.
We had a great meeting with Alex and his team, and we could have continued our conversation much longer, were it not that we were most aware that we had a long journey back to Kabale and Lake Bunyonyi ahead of us, and that we wanted to have reach there again before darkness. Although promoting community health by CTPH has of course everything to do with the conservation of the endangered mountain gorilla, many of their programs are also applicable in general situations (in Uganda) where development is needed. Therefore, we will stay in touch in the future for the purpose of exchanging more information and ideas.
Not after we had purchased some bags Gorilla Conservation Coffee, that way supporting local coffee farmers and therewith helping to protect the critically endangered gorillas and their habitat and after having enjoyed the amazing view over Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and having made a group photo, we started our long but wonderful journey back home.
Thank you Alex and team for your warm welcome and hospitality!
More information about Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) can be found on their website.
HWMCO-Nederland & NiCA Foundation
‘We Fight Poverty by Bringing Development.’
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