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What is Conservation Medicine?

First used in the 1990’s the term ‘Conservation Medicine’ describes the broad ecological context of health. It represents an emerging interdisciplinary field that studies the multiple two-way interactions between pathogens and disease on the one hand, and between species and eco-systems on the other.

Conservation Medicine attempts to examine the world in a fully inclusive way by bringing together the disciplines of health and ecology through the study of the ecological context of health and the remediation of ecological health problems. It overtly recognises the health component of conserving biodiversity and addresses the effects of disease on rare or endangered species as well as the functioning of ecosystems. It is also concerned with the impacts of changes in species diversity or rarity on disease maintenance and transmission.

World-renowned physician and conservationist Dr Rudie van Vuuren, who alongside his expert team will be leading the World Extreme Medicine Conservation Medicine course in Namibia, says “Conservation Medicine is working together with other disciplines in the field of disease and conservation to create healthier ecosystems, recognise and treat diseases that cross the human-animal barrier, prevent outbreaks of these diseases and better understand how our natural environment is inter-dependent.

Why is Conservation Medicine needed?
Over the last two decades, as human populations have constantly grown and expanded, quite often at the cost of wildlife habitat with animals and plants around the world becoming increasingly threatened, this, in turn, has had a secondary effect of narrowing the disease interface barrier. Complex health issues are now becoming more commonplace and so people are recognising that human health and the health of the planet are inextricably linked.

It has become more apparent that one cannot look at disease only from a human perspective anymore, we now need a multi-disciplinary approach where cause and effect should be addressed. By combining biomedical, ecological and veterinary sciences together, it enables us to explore the connections and understand the ecological causes of changes in animal and human health, trace the environmental sources of pathogens and pollutants, and understand the consequences of diseases to populations.

Who practices conservation medicine?
Due to the uniqueness and the various disciplines involved, Conservation Medicine provides a new vision to those people studying and immersed in the following fields:

Medical Professionals With many conservation research expeditions and projects taking place in developing countries, where medical facilities are either non-existent or poor, it is vital that there are medical professionals on the ground with the practical skills, knowledge and understanding needed to perform in highly complex and demanding situations.As medics take their medical skills into the wild, Conservation Medicine allows them to learn about such as things as Zoonosis, survival in the bush and infectious diseases that are relevant to their environment; as well as understanding and being part of life in a remote clinic or rural outreach programme.
Veterinarians Veterinary medicine and veterinarians are uniquely placed to be involved with conservation medicine (aka one health concept) as they have a broad exposure to all 3 role players (human, animal and environmental health).Why do veterinarians get involved? Veterinarians realise that whether you farm with cattle or whether you are interested in conservation, without a healthy environment for the animals to flourish in, the farming enterprise/conservation effort is helpless.
Ecologists Conservation Medicine goes a long way toward teaching us to analyse health problems in an ecological context as more and more we are starting to see a connection between ecosystem health, human health and animal health with the greater understanding of global climate change, and the wide-ranging influence of human effects on the planet.
Geologists Conservation Medicine covers human and wildlife health issues linked with either geological processes or the tools that geoscientists use, such as satellites and subsurface monitors. A geologist’s role in Conservation Medicine is to understand and deal with the relationship between natural geological factors, such as the role of rocks, soil and groundwater in controlling the health of humans and animals. They also need to understand the influence of ordinary environmental factors on the geographical distribution of such health problems.
Conservation biologists Modern diseases and the susceptibility to diseases from humans to animals and vice versa are no exception to these global challenges we face. Conservation medicine is one such innovative approach with which to address these challenges, especially diseases. In order for us to understand the relationships of organism to their environment, then, much like running a diagnosis, we start by understanding the historical behaviour and factors that influenced and led to the current state of imbalance. This enables for an accurate diagnosis, which makes treating the diseases, the imbalance or each of these current conservation challenges more effectively.

The future of Conservation Medicine
In a world where the global impact of human activity is evident in the dynamics of every local ecosystem and habitat, from human-modified landscapes to modern day environmental threats such as global warming, acid rain, air pollution, urban sprawl, demand is now dictating the need to renew the link between medicine and natural history and take a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to the conservation of biodiversity.

More conversations are taking place between interdisciplinary fields than ever before and practitioners are consistently finding themselves exploring new and unfamiliar terrain as they seek to develop and apply global health management practices, policies and programmes that protect the ecosystems essential to animal and human health. By joining forces under a common denominator: health, this new found working partnership will ignite a powerful new global awareness that conservation of biodiversity and of healthy functioning ecosystems is necessary to the health of individuals and populations, human and otherwise.

Introducing the new World Extreme Medicine Conservation Medicine Course
Due to the importance of this subject and with such growing demand for medical skills in this field, as more conservation projects are founded and remote communities more accessible and in need of medical help and assistance, we have developed an exciting Conservation Medicine course to add to our incredible roster of inspirational extreme medicine training courses. Open to both medical and animal health professionals this fascinating subject is explored in great depth and will provide skills that can then be utilised in real-life situations.

WEM Founding Director, Mark Hannaford says: “It was following a discussion in Windhoek with Dr. Rudie van Vuuren, a physician and conservationist that we agreed the area of Conservation Medicine was wholly unrepresented by our training courses. Now, more so than ever, as the interrelated worlds of animal and human medicine meet, there is a need to gain further knowledge of zoonosis epidemics and disease outbreaks so that they might be easier to identify and contain.

Following our discussion, a plan was set in motion for us to work together in Namibia and create a unique training course like no other. Having already been operating in Namibia for a number of years running our desert medicine courses, we were convinced of the training value Dr Rudie and his team would bring. We are really excited to have created an amazing course that will allow clinicians to look in greater detail at animal psychology and spend more time understanding what we might learn from animal medicine.”

As well as learning the practical skills required to work in the wild, we wanted to expose people to the extraordinary desert environment of Namibia and bring them into contact with the diversity present in this beautiful country. Through this partnership, we also have the opportunity to advertise when vacancies arise for new medics in his Bushman clinic, so the skills learnt through our training course can be put into practice and provide a willing medic with a career-changing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Working alongside and the world-renowned N/a’an ku sê Foundation we have brought together leading physicians, conservationists, veterinarians and ecologists to deliver an unrivalled syllabus of content that explores the relationships among animal, human, and environmental health and how professionals can work together to make our ecosystem healthier and restore biodiversity.

The course aims to enable attendees to:

  • Learn and enhance their knowledge about Conservation Medicine and the interactions between human, animal and ecosystem health.
  • Acquire and develop specific veterinary and survival skills applicable to Conservation Medicine.
  • Enhance knowledge and skills relating to understanding, diagnosing and treating Common African Zoonosis.
  • Understand how a Conservation Medicine approach can be applied to a range of practical real-life situations by assessing, assimilating and applying scientific evidence and responding with an appropriate solution.

Through hands-on workshops and field trips, lectures and guest speakers, you’ll explore a wide range of topics, such as conservation medicine, African zoonosis, venomous animals, wildlife immobilisation (theory and practical), anti-poaching, survival in the bush, life in remote clinics, rural outreach and infectious diseases, all preparing you for work on the wilder side of life. You’ll also experience as part of this one of a kind course, special highlights throughout your stay that will leave memories to last a lifetime, including a carnivore feeding tour, traditional Namibian braai and your choice of a Cheetah walk, baboon walk or horse ride through the reserve.

To find out more about our unique Conservation Medicine course, please click here, and if after reading all about the course you still need convincing that this is the course for you, read our other Conservation Medicine related blogs which reaffirm why this one-of-a-kind course is not to be missed!

The WEM Conservation Medicine is a ‘One Medicine’ course.  The origin of the One Medicine concept has been linked to the 19th century German physician and pathologist, Rudolf Virchow, whose discoveries on Trichinella spiralis in pork led to valuable public health measures (1). Virchow coined the term “zoonosis” and proclaimed that there should be no dividing line between human and animal medicine. Source Article.

Other blogs that may be of interest, include: