Linking Population, Health, and Environment: A Perspective from the September 2017 Regional PHE Symposium

Linking Family Planning and Global Development

Betty Mbolanyi

Uganda Ministry of Water and Environment, Directorate of Environment Affairs | Environmentalist and Population, Health, and Environment Focal Person
Delegates at the closing ceremony of the Regional PHE Symposium 2017

Delegates at the closing ceremony of the Regional PHE Symposium 2017. Photo: Favour Studios Kampala

Worldwide, Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) is a leading force for addressing and linking issues related to conservation and health. The PHE approach acknowledges and addresses the complex connections between people, their health, and their environment. Today, integrated PHE programming has especially gained momentum in the East Africa Community region and is being applied to concerns as wide-ranging as climate change and food security, especially at the household level.

We have recognized that PHE issues are becoming increasingly important for EAC partner states—where natural resources, health, and well-being are often negatively affected by factors such as population pressure and extreme poverty. Understanding these connections, including the economic and social contexts in which they occur and addressing challenges in an integrated manner, is critical for achieving sustainable development.

PHE efforts generate goodwill for environmental outcomes. Indirectly, community commitment is fostered through an understanding of the linkages between health and environment. In other scenarios, the impact is more direct—for example, the increase in quality and quantity of working hours resulting from improved health allows for better stewardship of the environment. Potentially, this leads to a positive feedback loop where conservation efforts lead to increased resource availability with better nutrition, contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In terms of population issues, the PHE approach has been successful in strengthening capacity for family planning in a variety of settings. This has empowered families to plan and manage their families, having children by choice and not by chance.

Therefore, this first regional PHE symposium was timely, as it highlighted key issues and development challenges for the EAC region. The symposium was designed to help policy makers, political leaders, educators, PHE implementers, and local communities identify key threats to sustainable development and explore possible approaches to addressing them. By the end of the symposium, delegates had agreed upon and committed to meaningful resolutions in order to guide and fast-track PHE implementation by both state and non-state actors in EAC partner countries.

Dr. Doreen Othero, Regional PHE program coordinator at LVBC (left) and Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Founder of Conservation Through Public Health

Dr. Doreen Othero, Regional PHE program coordinator at the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (left) and Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Founder of Conservation Through Public Health

Best practices showcased by programs and projects underway in the Lake Victoria Basin indicated that the PHE concept aims to simultaneously improve access to health services and manage natural resources in ways that improve livelihoods while conserving critical ecosystems. These projects demonstrate that a comprehensive and integrated strategy that builds upon existing synergies between people, their health, and their environment is more efficient and results-oriented than programs using a single-sector approach.

The symposium demonstrated and proved several things:

  1. The PHE approach is cost effective, as programs are showing significantly higher positive impacts at a lower total cost in both reproductive health and natural resource management than single-sector approaches. This is due to the fact that multi-project interventions can be planned, implemented, and monitored using common management plans and evaluation systems.
  2. People don’t lead their lives in silos. It’s important to remember that many people spend most of their time and effort contributing to daily household food baskets, leaving little or no time to seek health services for themselves or their children. This is partly due to a growing number of families competing for dwindling resources. Therefore, communities require programs with a PHE focus, which addresses multiple needs simultaneously.
  3. Reaching out to new audiences facilitates knowledge management. With integrated programming, a number of men, women, and adolescents have devoted time and effort to population management and conservation, which has also increased goodwill and collaboration within the community. A case cited during the symposium involved the Lake Victoria Basin itself, where the Beach Management Units (BMUs) are watch dogs for use of illegal fishing nets.

We know that a healthy community is dependent on a sustainable environment. Enabling women to choose the number and spacing of their children and helping communities create a robust environment gives people a pathway out of poverty. And as we experienced during the symposium, sharing the successes of early adopters and getting others to adopt the PHE approach as an innovative solution to emerging problems is an effective way to achieve the SDGs.

To conclude, in recognizing the links between population, health, and environment, we can motivate policy makers to assertively address the root causes of environmental degradation, preserve our critical ecosystems, and ensure better health and well-being for all people in the EAC region and beyond.