What is Conservation Medicine?

20 June 2018

Conservation medicine is an emerging interdisciplinary field that studies the multiple two-way interactions between pathogens and disease on the one hand, and between species and ecosystems on the other. First used in the 1990s, the term describes the broad ecological context of health.

Those that study conservation medicine attempt 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. 

Conservation medicine 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.

Why is conservation medicine needed?

Over the last two decades, 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 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 we 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, conservation medicine 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 on populations. This is why World Extreme Medicine offer a unique conservation medicine course to provide relevant training for those who are interested in this field. 

Who can practice conservation medicine?

Due to the uniqueness and the various disciplines involved, conservation medicine provides a new vision to people 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 things such 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 as they have broad exposure to all three 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 biologist 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 organisms to their environment, we start by understanding the historical behaviour and factors that influenced and led to the current state of imbalance. This enables an accurate diagnosis, which makes treating the diseases, the imbalance or each of these current conservation challenges more effective.

What is 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, and urban sprawl – we must 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. 

Our unique conservation medicine course

Due to the importance of this subject and the growing demand for medical skills on conservation projects, 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 used in real-life situations.

Working alongside 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. We aim to demonstrate how professionals can work together to make our ecosystem healthier and restore biodiversity.

For more information, you can visit our conservation medicine course page

You can also read our blog or visit our e-learning section, a digital resource for extreme medical professionals, packed with podcasts, webinars, interviews and presentations – amongst which you’ll discover plenty of valuable information on conservation medicine.

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