The forum on Health and Biodiversity is an ongoing series of discussion and concerted action towards the recognition that both health development and variability in nature are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Recently, a Forum meeting was held at the Faculty of Public Heatlh, Mahidol University, Bangkok, prior to the 2nd international symposium on “Biodiversity and Health in Southeast Asia: translating research into action” (July 11th – 13th, 2016).
The recently published “state of knowledge review” of biodiversity and health (CBD – WHO, 2015) together with the rising number of articles reporting investigations on the relationships between biodiversity and health, including VBD, attest of the significance of the topic as well as the importance of its applications for our society.
Although it is arguable that our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning health and biodiversity relationships is improving, as described in the above mentioned reports, the focus has been understanding biodiversity predominantly from the standpoint of its biophysical properties and processes, and an anthropocentric perspective with human societies as an external stressor and beneficiary of biodiversity. A substantially different set of issues and gaps emerge when biodiversity, as well as health, is considered in the context of rural, tropical developing environments and livelihoods, from an intervention perspective—particularly in the logic of evidence based intervention for community resilience in their complex social-ecological systems.
Rural societies are potentially, if not actually, the de facto stewards of much, if not most, of the world’s ‘biodiversity’. Unlike biodiversity ‘stakeholders’ represented by conservation biologists and their organizations, their livelihoods and health is directly dependent on the biodiversity in their immediate surroundings. Also, the rural environments in which these stakeholders live are changing more rapidly than any other lands, and as such are most subject to the ecological and evolutionary instabilities which place them at risk of impacts of changing weather patterns, and potentially altered VDB transmission dynamics associated with climate change.
Like health, biodiversity is a social construct dependent upon cultural perspectives and social and environmental circumstances. This, and the lack of a comprehensive framework that encompasses this reality apparently both represents and contributes to gaps in research and practice consistent with evidence based approaches to intervention.
The Forum on Health and Biodiversity is an attempt to provide and discuss elements underlying a needed conceptual reframing accounting for these unacknowledged realities.
The main goal is to provide an operational Health and Biodiversity transdisciplinary framework and consequently to 1) foster an integrative understanding of the interdependencies of natural and human generated variety and variability with human health and well-being (both research-based scientific knowledge and stakeholder local knowledge) and 2) to operationalize the translation of this integrated knowledge into action, including local stakeholder empowerment through participatory protocols and the creation or amendment of legal documents (from a policy standpoint) at international and national levels supporting and protecting local or regional, integrated initiatives intended to maintain or enhance biodiversity-based resilience. This is particularly relevant and critical in the Southeast Asian context where a majority of people live in rural areas and conduct farming activities under strong pressures (globalization, short term profit-based developments, etc.).
A transdisciplinary approach to Biodiversity and health is suggested in which problem definition and solution seeking is pluralistic with particular emphasis on the felt needs and perspectives of intended beneficiaries of any interventions. That is, it does not serve nor is defined by a particular academic or professional community alone, but rather together with local, or place-based communities. In practice, operationalizing transdisciplinarity imply strengthening community participation, including sharing knowledge, identifying beneficiaries and defining consensual goals. Thus several areas of inquiry underlying a Biodiversity and Health transdisciplinary framework can be defined as:
- Meaning of biodiversity and health for different stakeholders
- Biodiversity and Health as social constructs
- Participatory approaches to Biodiversity and Health
- Resilience in social-ecological systems
Several ouptuts and outcomes are anticipated in a form of community-based stewardship projects, including program and protocols as well as their assessment schemes and publications which can be peer-reviewed articles or practical manuals.