Health and Biodiversity Resources for Integrating Health and Biodiversity Conservation

Nature’s Role in Promoting Health and Fighting Disease

Millions of people in developing countries die each year from preventable causes such as malaria, undernutrition, and diarrheal disease. Intact, biologically diverse ecosystems play important roles in promoting health and fighting disease by providing goods and services including fish, non-cultivated foods, natural medicines, and clean air and water. Ecosystems such as forests can also help regulate common infectious diseases like malaria by inhibiting conditions that spread disease vectors. COVID-19 has brought into stark reality the connections between wildlife, the environment, public health, and human security. Biodiversity conservation and sound management of natural resources improve ecosystem function and productivity, with positive outcomes for human health and well-being. The Health Reference Sheet is designed to be a quick introduction for those looking for opportunities to integrate biodiversity conservation with health programming.

  • Biodiversity conservation can prevent disease transmission. The shrinking separation between humans and wild ecosystems, and unregulated wildlife trade and consumption increase the transmission of disease-causing viruses from animals to people through contact and interaction. One recent analysis finds that activities such as the wildlife trade, hunting, and habitat degradation are associated with spillover of harmful viruses from wildlife to people.
  • Biodiversity underpins essential ecosystem services that support human health and well-being. The loss and degradation of natural systems can lead to negative health outcomes. For example, at least 10 percent of the global population could face deficiencies of micronutrients like zinc, iron, and vitamin A and fatty acids like DHA omega-3 due to declines in fish catch (Golden et al. 2016).
  • Integrated approaches that address health and the environment can improve outcomes in both sectors. For instance, a Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) project in Madagascar worked with communities to reduce destructive fishing practices, protect local marine ecosystems, and improve access to reproductive health and family planning services for nearly 3,000 women. The communities worked to conserve the ecosystems they depend on for food security and livelihoods (Mohan and Shellard 2014).
Model Moms at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique are learning and sharing best practices in mother and child health, including preparation of nutritious meals and how to keep a kitchen garden. Photo taken May 2016 by Andrew Tobiason, USAID.

Conservation for Healthier Communities

By combining health, family planning, and environment programming, USAID is simultaneously able to address drivers of overexploitation of natural ecosystems—demographic pressure and poor health—and support those ecosystems themselves.

USAID/Mozambique’s Integrated Gorongosa and Buffer Zone (IGBZ) Program links biodiversity conservation in the Gorongosa National Park to income and employment opportunities, and promotes adoption of positive health and nutrition behaviors. As a result of the program’s health interventions, mobile health brigades provide vaccinations and support pre- and post-natal care, family planning, and HIV/AIDS counseling, testing, and prevention for families in the park’s buffer zones.

Affordable and accessible healthcare can mitigate illegal exploitation of natural resources often used to pay for hospital bills, medicine, or transport to urban healthcare centers.

Resources for USAID Missions, Washington, and Partners

Biodiversity Conservation Can Support Public Health

Recent multi-country analyses illustrate linkages between ecosystem conditions and children’s health and nutrition.

Reports and Evidence

Photo by: Susanna Jolly.

Cross-Sectoral Integration Can Benefit Health and Nature

USAID projects that integrate health and the environment highlight benefits for both community health and local ecosystems.

Case Examples

Other Resources

  • USAID-supported population, health, and environment (PHE) programming in Madagascar worked with communities to reduce destructive fishing practices, protect local marine ecosystems, and improve access to reproductive health and family planning services for nearly 3,000 women. The communities worked to conserve the ecosystems they depend on for food security and livelihoods.
  • USAID/Indonesia Forest and Climate Support project tested whether convenient, affordable, and quality health care might be the key to ending illegal logging. By providing innovative health services to communities around Gunung Palung, a national park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, these groups have seen rapid and dramatic improvements in public health indicators while reducing the number of families involved in illegal logging by 90 percent.
  • USAID’s Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group promotes the use of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) integration guidelines to reduce the impacts of infrastructure and pollution on freshwater ecosystems, and employing PHE guidelines to identify and develop synergies between critical ecosystem services and human health and well-being.

Photo by: Jake Lyell.

Cross-cutting Resources

The Biodiversity Reference Sheet describes opportunities for integrating biodiversity with other development sectors that exist throughout the USAID portfolio, and can be realized by the coordination of existing programming, co-location of new activities, or planned co-funding. The full biodiversity integration reference sheet series includes resources for health, water and sanitation, food security, and democracy, human rights, and governance.

Integrating Ecosystem Values into Cost-Benefit Analysis: Recommendations for USAID and Practitioners provides recommendations for the incorporation of ecosystem service valuations into Agency cost-benefit analysis (CBA) across sectors, both for USAID staff that produce or use CBAs and for USAID as an institution.

Better Biodiversity Integration Through Geospatial Analysis describes the use of geospatial analysis for integrating biodiversity conservation with other development sectors at USAID.

Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) Sections 118/119 Tropical Forest and Biodiversity Analysis Best Practices Guide includes a scope of work template and an annotated analysis outline to help missions prepare for, manage, and conduct an FAA 118/119 analysis and understand how to use that report to support strategy development.

Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for Integration. Coming Soon!

USAID Ecosystem-based Adaptation Series Synthesis describes a nature-based method for climate change adaptation that can reduce the vulnerability of people, natural systems, and economies to climate stressors. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) provides flexible and cost-effective approaches that enhance resilience through the improved management and conservation of ecosystems. EbA can be an effective adaptation strategy alone or as an element of broader national, regional, and community adaptation plans. The synthesis summarizes a full series of EbA evidence summaries and case studies.

A baby is weighed by a nurse in Siaya County, Kenya. Intact forests provide goods and services like clean water, non-cultivated foods, and medicinal plants that support children’s health. Photo by: Ranelle Sykes/USAID.