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 Human Health and the Environment

© Art Wolfe
© Art Wolfe,

Natural ecosystems play an essential role in human health security by regulating climate, air, water and infectious diseases as well as supplying effective disease treatments, which is why CI has made health security one of its new priorities.

Globally, more than 50 percent of modern medicines and more than 90 percent of traditional medicines come from wild plants and animals. More than 70,000 plant species are used as medicine, making up "one of the most significant ways in which humans directly reap benefits provided by biodiversity," according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Many of the leads for treatments of cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and many other life-threatening diseases are coming from the marine ecosystems in coral reefs

While many pharmaceutical companies have relied in recent years on searching their own libraries for new medicines, these explorations have proved disappointing. In fact, the overall diversity of medicinal compounds in nature is 100 million times greater than that in existing synthetic libraries, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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Unfortunately, ecosystem degradation may impede future development and supplies of modern and traditional medicines due to species declines and disrupted ecological interactions that cause organisms to produce compounds of medicinal importance. While the World Health Organization is promoting an increase in the accessibility and use of traditional medicines in the developing world, overharvesting already is leading to scarcity of these medicines and reducing the income streams they produce, especially for the rural poor.

LEARN MORE: Fresh Water for Health

Increases in human disease have been traced to the interruption of ecosystem services by deforestation, agricultural development, disturbed water flows, urbanization and climate change. Recent studies show that increases in deforestation and forest fragmentation lead to an increase in disease vectors such as mosquitoes. Many people will be surprised to learn that a majority of emerging infectious diseases have been linked to increased human-wildlife contact through the subsistence eating of "bush meat" and the trade of wild animals as pets and exotic food.

Evidence linking human health security to healthy, intact ecosystems has increased rapidly in the new millennium. However, the awareness of this link is low. Therefore, CI is working to compile the evidence and communicate it to the world – to the policy makers, industries and people who can work in partnership with CI to maintain wild landscapes essential to human health.

READ MORE: Conservation's Contributions to Human Health

Nature provides the most comprehensive healthcare package on Earth. It is made up of climate control; clean, renewable water sources; abundant foods from forest and sea; and, when needed, medicines to treat disease. If we act now, we can save these natural systems that are so vital to human health. Our lives depend on it.

Learn more about some of our specific strategies and initiatives:

Through this integrated health and conservation project, CI worked in the most remote, biologically diverse areas of the world: Cambodia, the Philippines and Madagascar.
One way in which CI is trying to reduce the human footprint on biodiversity is to implement community based programs in key biodiversity areas to improve human and ecosystem health at the same time.
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Posted by Mandy Morgan