Kibale Mobile Clinic
KIBALE MOBILE CLINIC
Tropical, rural communities face a constant struggle for survival and one of their central issues is health care (e.g., in the community I have worked for the last 3 decades, 30% of all deaths among children between the ages of 2 and 4 are caused by malaria, a disease that could be easily treated or simply prevented by using mosquito nets over beds). Most of this suffering is not caused by a lack of effective drugs or technology, but sadly, because accessibility to health services and simple preventative measures are simply not there. These issues are most severe in remote regions where health services are limited and these remote areas are often home to protected areas for wildlife. This juxtaposition between humans and protected areas provides a unique opportunity for a partnership between health care and conservation that I have developed through my Mobile Clinic in Uganda. I purchased a refurbished ambulance in Canada and shipped it to Uganda. The mobile clinic now regularly travels around Kibale National Park bringing basic health care, family planning, deworming, HIV/AIDS detection, treatment, and counseling, vaccinations, and health (e.g., water sanitation) and conservation education to remote villagers around the park. When I established the mobile clinic it initially had only one nurse to provide services, with a doctor available for consultation, but the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) immediately realized this was insufficient and requested assistance from the Ministry of Health and an additional 3-4 nurses from the local clinics joined in the daily operations. UWA currently runs the program and it is largely self-sustaining.
DOES THE MOBILE CLINIC WORK FOR CONSERVATION?
My graduate student Dorothy Kirumira documented that the mobile clinic delivers medical treatment to approximately 1000 people a month, and delivers health and conservation education to 10 time that number. These events also allowed the community to interact with park staff to express their grievances and understand the park’s side of the conservation situation, which the wardens have noted as important to smoothing people-park relations.
These actions appeared to have been appreciated by the local community as a survey conducted before and two years after the implementation of the mobile clinic documented an increase in the proportion of people who ‘liked’ the park and a decreased the number of people that ‘disliked’ the park. We believe that the people who dislike the park are the members of the local community most are likely to take negative actions against the park. In terms of protecting biodiversity, the activity of the mobile clinic was coincident with the community perceiving that encroachment into the park was declining; however, the number of incidences of encroachment recorded by the park rangers increased. Explaining this increase in poaching is difficult. The people may be appreciative, but not so much that they are willing to alter their behaviour or behaviour may change slowly and it may take longer to detect positive effects of health care on biodiversity.