Linking reproductive health, sustainable development, and conservation: Insights and experiences from the Population & Sustainability Network and its members

September 30, 2016


PSN's Chief Executive, David Johnson, and Policy and Advocacy Manager, Carina Hirsch, joined PSN members, IPPF and its latest member, PRB, for a webinar sharing insights into the links between family planning and reproductive health to other sectors such as conservation and climate change. 



Linking family planning and reproductive health to other sectors—such as conservation and climate change—to achieve sustainable development is not new, but some opportunities to collaborate may not be well-known. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the scientific body which reviews existing climate science and informs the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Conference of Parties (COPs)—recognises family planning as a potential adaptation strategy. However, few people in any sector are aware of this opportunity.

In an Africa Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) webinar hosted by PACE, the Population & Sustainability Network (PSN) and two member organisations, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) joined Population Reference Bureau (PRB) to share insights and discuss how PSN and its members advocate for family planning to benefit conservation and sustainable development.

Kristen P. Patterson of PRB welcomed participants. David Johnson and Carina Hirsch, both of PSN, shared the history and role of PSN, which launched in 2004. Its 17 member organizations include national and international NGOs, academic institutions, international organizations, and government bodies. Many of these groups advocate for, design, and implement PHE projects in African countries. PSN advocates for and brings attention to PHE projects in various international forums and brings partners together.

For example, Bridget Corrigan of EWT explained how PSN facilitated and brokered links to organizations that enabled EWT to integrate family planning interventions into programs where communities expressed a need for reproductive health services. One such partnership is the Groot Marico PHE project, now in its early implementation stages.

Similarly, Alison Marshall of IPPF shared that membership with PSN has been an effective way to advocate for voluntary, rights-based family planning with a particular focus on climate change and other environmental issues. PSN and IPPF have jointly advocated at the UNFCCC COPs and are now collaborating on an advocacy toolkit.

Following the presentation, Patterson led a lively Q&A session with questions from the audience, who joined the webinar from various countries around the world, including many in eastern and southern Africa.

This webinar is part of the Africa PHE webinar series implemented under the Policy, Advocacy, and Communication Enhanced for Population and Reproductive Health (PACE) Project.

Network News: Integrating tree conservation and mobile health clinics in Kenya

September 23, 2016


This month we feature an update on a new programme of our fellow Population & Sustainability Network member, CHASE Africa, an NGO working to improve access to family planning and healthcare, and increasing the resilience of the natural environment in Kenya and Uganda. CHASE Africa’s innovative approach, combining support for mobile clinics and tree planting projects, is helping to make this a reality. Robin Witt writes about his experiences in Kenya and the success of CHASE’s integrated health and conservation projects.

CHASE Africa, originally called the Rift Valley Tree Trust, was established in 2000 to encourage tree planting around the fast disappearing Mau forest in Kenya. Starting tree nurseries was easy but finding secure land to plant the trees on proved much more difficult. Many schools have relatively large plots and we have now completed tree planting projects at more than 90 schools, with plots ranging from a half to two acres. Some of the first schools to take part in the planting project are now beginning to harvest their trees. Some schools have chosen to sell the timber, some use it to cook the school lunch and two had the timber milled and built new classrooms.

One of the ideas behind the school tree project was that the timber produced would take some pressure off the indigenous forest. However, the forest seemed to be disappearing at an ever-increasing rate and the size of a farm holding was becoming ever smaller. The reason behind this was Kenya’s population was growing by around one million a year. This coupled with the fact that many rural women had no access to family planning, and were having more children than they wanted, we decided to shift the main focus of our work to helping meet the unmet demand for family planning. The Kenyan Government is now strongly in favour of ensuring family planning is available to everyone. However, in rural areas provision of services is weak due to economic and logistical difficulties. Today, we work with four partners in Kenya and one in Uganda, and over the last four years, we have helped over 54,000 women to have access to family planning.

One of our partners, Dandelion Africa, works in Baringo County in Kenya. This semi-arid county has a contraceptive prevalence rate of only 33%, which is the percentage of women who are currently using, or whose sexual partner is currently using, at least one method of contraception. Dandelion is enabling many women who have never had access to contraception the chance to plan their family size by running mobile clinics that come to their communities. Dandelion, working in conjunction with the Ministry of Health (MoH), decides which communities are to be visited by first holding a meeting with the area Chief and other relevant individuals, to discuss the forthcoming clinic. Key to the success of a clinic is the work of the community health workers who, in the weeks leading up to the clinic, spend time discussing all the benefits family planning can bring and dispelling many of the myths that abound. Local radio in these rural areas is a key form of communication and Dandelion advertises where and when clinics will be happening. On the actual day of the clinic, eight staff are contracted from the MoH on a locum basis. These include two doctors, three family planning and cervical cancer nurses, one antenatal care officer, one HIV/AIDS tester and counsellor and one pharmacist. Often a church hall or school buildings will be used to house the clinic but if these are not available small pop-up tents are taken.

A typical day-clinic comprises the following services, general GP services, immunization, deworming, cervical cancer screening, family planning, and HIV/AIDS testing and counselling, generally with over 1,000 people attending. Family planning patients can choose between different contraceptive methods, including the pill, a 3 month injectable contraceptive, Depo-Provera, a 3 or 5 year contraceptive implant, or an IUD. Female and male condoms are also distributed. The number of women attending for family planning normally varies between 100 and 200.

There are many benefits of enabling women to have the chance to choose family planning, the main ones being maternal health is improved, abortions are reduced and there is a positive impact on under-fives mortality. Traditionally in these rural areas, parents could often not afford to send their daughters to secondary school, sending their sons in preference. When parents can choose how many children they have, all of their children stand a much better chance of being educated and it is well known that one of the key things in reducing total fertility is the education of girls.

CHASE Africa is a small NGO with limited funds but what it has shown is there is a very high unmet demand for family planning in rural areas of Kenya, and for relatively modest sums, that demand can be met and a family’s fortunes, and perhaps the planet’s as well, can be changed for the better.


Welcome to the Population Reference Bureau – our latest member!

September 14, 2016


We are delighted to welcome the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) into our Network. PRB works to inform people around the world about population, health and the environment, and empowers them to use that information to advance the well-being of current and future generations.


Based in Washington, DC, in the United States, PRB is committed to empowering people with knowledge. It analyses and interprets demographic, health and environmental data and trends, and shares that information with people and organisations at all levels. From decision makers and community leaders, to youth in the US and internationally, the information PRB shares helps advocate for and enact policy changes, advancing the health of people around the world.

Kristen P. Patterson, Programme Director for Population, Health and Environment at PRB said, “I appreciate the Population & Sustainability Network’s enthusiasm to further engage the conservation community to support reproductive health and sustainability by recently joining the IUCN. I look forward to collaborating with PSN and its Members to promote positive messages around population, reproductive health, and sustainability and expand support for integrated population, health, and environment approaches to sustainable development at the country level as a means of efficiently and effectively achieving the SDGs.”

Jeffrey Jordan, President and CEO of PRB said, “We are proud to add our evidence-based research, capacity-building and advocacy voice to the Network and look forward to continued collaboration with PSN and all its Members.”

David Johnson, Chief Executive of PSN said, “We are not only excited that PRB have become our latest Member, but also that we will be marking that membership tomorrow, when we host our first joint webinar.” On Wednesday 14 September 2016, PRB in partnership with PSN and fellow PSN Members the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, are hosting a webinar on the links between reproductive health, sustainable development and conservation. Topics discussed will include past and future advocacy activities on the connections between family planning and climate change, COP22 activities, FP2020 linkages, and a new population, health and environment project being implemented by PSN and the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa.

The webinar will take place between 4pm and 5pm East Africa Time (Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda); 3pm and 4pm South Africa Standard Time; 9am and 10am Eastern Daylight Time (Washington, DC); and 2pm and 3pm (London). 

The partnership between PSN had PRB pre-dates PRB’s formal membership of PSN. PSN’s Projects and Communications Manager, Kat Lloyd, said, “Back in 2015 PSN was honoured to be invited to participate in a PRB expert working group on population dynamics and climate compatible development, which comprised experts from the climate change, family planning, and development assistance communities and we’re pleased that we can today announce we are deepening this collaboration further.” The expert working group recommended the inclusion of universal access to voluntary family planning in climate compatible development plans. PRB and PSN anticipate that PRB’s membership will only enhance the two organisations’ work together on these critically important issues.

The Population & Sustainability Network joins world’s largest environmental alliance

August 31, 2016


The Population & Sustainability Network is proud to announce its membership of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Created in 1948, IUCN is the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network, harnessing the knowledge, resources and reach of 1,300 member organisations and some 15,000 experts.


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In becoming an IUCN member, the Population & Sustainability Network aims to influence global conservation policy, to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights are given due prominence by the conservation sector. Almost invariably it is rural communities in the developing world which face the greatest barriers to unrestricted access to contraceptive services. These same rural areas, where the conservation sector operates, are those where the inextricable links between poor health, unmet family planning needs, population pressures, environmental degradation, vulnerability to climate change and food security are most obvious.

David Johnson, the Population & Sustainability Network’s Chief Executive, said, “In a world with a population projected to increase by a third, from today’s 7.4 billion, to 9.9 billion in 2050, unrestricted access to family planning information, rights and services are not only critical for women’s health and empowerment, but also many other development issues too. That includes environmental and conservation challenges.” The Population & Sustainability Network questions whether many existing traditional conservation programmes can possibly be successful in the long term, unless these demographic realities are taken into account in conservation programme design. One way to take them into account is to create new partnerships between the conservation and health sectors.

The Population & Sustainability Network is the international programme of the Margaret Pyke Trust, a UK charity founded nearly fifty years ago. The Trust has been at the forefront of contraceptive developments since its foundation, from provision of clinical services in its early days, to academic research, programme delivery and international reproductive health advocacy more recently. Carina Hirsch, Advocacy and Policy Manager said, “We believe we are the first IUCN member, of the 1,300 existing members, with a primary mission focussed on reproductive health. We’re excited about using our specialist expertise to help shape the conservation policies of the future”.

The Trust launched the Population & Sustainability Network in 2004, at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, and has promoted reproductive rights as part of sustainable development ever since. David Johnson concluded, “Having already built a reputation in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change processes, such as at the recent COP21 in Paris, IUCN membership builds on the Trust’s advocacy strategy of promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights to a broader audience.”

The IUCN provides a neutral space in which stakeholders including governments, NGOs, scientists, businesses, local communities, indigenous peoples organisations and others can work together to forge and implement solutions to environmental challenges and achieve sustainable development. The Population & Sustainability Network’s IUCN membership will bring a new and distinct voice to discussions about how to implement those solutions.

Network News: Integrating wildlife conservation and human health in Uganda

August 22, 2016


This month we feature an update on a new program of our fellow Population & Sustainability Network member, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), an NGO improving the lives of the people and wildlife in East Africa. Gladys Kalema Zikusooka, the founder and chief executive of CTPH, writes about her experiences in Uganda, a country with significant barriers to unrestricted access to family planning, and where UN medium variant projections are for the population to quintuple by the end of the century.


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The first time I ever went to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park I was 24 years old, as veterinary student. The rainforest was lush and beautiful—unlike anything I had ever seen. And deep within that forest resides a gentle giant—the Mountain Gorilla. After my first encounter with the gorillas I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to their conservation and I have never looked back.

My first job was working as a veterinarian with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at Bwindi. It was there that I experienced first hand how fragile the balance between wildlife and human health is. In 1996, I led the first team managing the scabies skin disease outbreak in the gorillas. I’ll never forget seeing Ruhara, an infant gorilla, become so weak from the disease that he couldn’t even hold onto his mother. After his death from scabies I began to ask myself how it could have been prevented. Scabies is a disease of poor hygiene and crowded conditions. The rural communities around Bwindi are some of the poorest and most population dense communities in Uganda. I knew then that poor health is a strain on both the communities and gorillas alike.

Driven by my love for wildlife and conservation and my passion to improve the health of my fellow Ugandans, I founded Conservation Through Public Health in 2003. CTPH has an innovative methodology that focuses on the integration of wildlife and human health and conservation. Our mission is to promote biodiversity conservation by enabling people, wildlife and livestock to coexist through improving their health and livelihoods. We are spearheading gorilla conservation through a multi-disciplinary population, health and environment approach because we know that these challenges are all inextricably linked.

We have worked with communities around Bwindi for years training Village Health Teams (VHTs) to integrate conservation and sustainable livelihoods into their public health outreach. Through training, communities learn about conservation and how public health including disease transmission and family planning can affect the environment and wildlife. Thus VHTs add conservation to their work and are transformed into Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs). Furthermore, we provide VHCTs with capital to start Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) through a group project that generates income and allows them to provide loans to community members so that they can continue working in a sustainable way.

One of the projects supporting this VHCT approach is funded by The Global Development Network, which awarded CTPH the Japanese Most Innovative Development Project Award. This award has enabled CTPH to scale the VHCT and VSLA approach to another district around Bwindi, and resulted in additional funding to scale this integrated approach to Mt. Elgon National Park in Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya, and the Virunga Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With this approach, we aim to try and transform the lives of the people and wildlife at this additional project area.


I recently returned from Mt. Elgon where my team visited three districts and trained more than 80 VHTs in our innovative program to become VHCTs. Communities in Mt. Elgon have similar needs for family planning and improved hygiene and sanitation as those in the Bwindi region. They also live near a national park where they continue to access resources from the park illegally. That drove our need to bring the integrated approach to human and wildlife Health and conservation to these communities because we know they can really benefit from learning more about the interconnectedness of their health and conservation.

In our Mt. Elgon program we are also trying something new—we want the government to take up more responsibility of the program so we are working more closely with district health and natural resource officers as well as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). This will benefit communities in creating a sustainable program run by the government that will continue well after donor funding ends. Furthermore, by involving UWA in the program it opened up a much-needed dialogue between them and the VHCTs. UWA and communities around Mt. Elgon have clashed over land use in and around the park for a long time, sometimes leading to violence and loss of lives. It is our expectation that through this program VHCTs will begin to bridge the gap between their own communities and UWA, eventually leading to peaceful relations and better understanding of how communities and UWA can work together to conserve the park and improve livelihoods.

CTPH began as a need to protect the health of people and gorillas. Through our hard work and dedication we have taken our vision and have begun to spread this to other communities living around protected areas in Africa. I am excited to see the future that we are able to build in Bwindi, Mt. Elgon and beyond.

You can read more about CTPH’s work on their website: