‘The Best Way To Save Orangutans Could Actually Be To Save People’

Planet well-being and human health are interconnected issues – one cannot be achieved without the other, according to Kinari Webb, an American medical doctor, public health innovator and thought leader interviewed on the most recent episode of the Global Health Matters podcast.

During the special “Dialogues” episode, Webb speaks with host Dr. Garry Aslanyan about her experiences in the rainforests that led her to establish the non-profit organisation Health in Harmony and write the book “Guardians of the Trees.” Webb and her team have developed a model that provides health care as an incentive to protect the environment.

“Without access to basic services … communities are often driven to destroy their local ecosystem, even when they really don’t want to do that,” Webb told Aslanyan. When these communities were asked what they would need so that they and the rainforests could thrive, “people said … they needed health care access. Sure enough, that came out straight. Without that, we cannot protect the forest, we cannot thrive, and we need organic farming training. They also wanted help with education for their kids.”

Webb and her team were able to work with these communities to help them implement incentives and other programs to achieve these goals. In Health in Harmony’s first sites, after 10 years, they saw a 90% drop in logging households, stabilisation of the loss of the primary forest, 52,000 acres of rainforest grew back, and a 67% drop in infant mortality, according to Webb.

Moreover, at Health in Harmony, they talk to the community about why issues exists and help them develop solutions rather than treating them from the outside. This can be seen, for example, in Madagascar, where they worked with the community to “design these comprehensive food systems that they just needed access to a little bit of education or certain kinds of seeds or a little bit of help with irrigation systems, things like that. Suddenly, they go from one rice crop a year to three.”

Webb said, “We are facing the end of civilisation. We don’t realise that even if we stopped 100% of all fossil fuel emissions and continue to lose rainforests at the rate that we are losing them, it would still be game over. Rainforests are absolute. They are the heart and the lungs of the world. We really need to think about that in that way. We can amputate an arm and still survive, not well, but we can survive. But without the heart and lungs, we won’t make it.”

What were the key lessons she wanted to share with other public health professionals:

1 – Radical listening

“Those closest to a problem understand it in its fullest depth and know the best solutions,” Webb said.

2 – Reciprocity

“We all have something to give; it’s about equal, loving respect and gift-giving mutually around the world,” she concluded.

Previous “Dialogues” episode: A conversation with Olusoji Adeyi.

Listen to previous episodes of Global Health Matters on Health Policy Watch.

Image Credits: Global Health Matters.

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