The study examines academic literature to identify 46 interventions that would benefit both humans and the environment. A comprehensive review of academic papers and reports assessed 46 proposed “win-win” solutions for reducing human infectious disease burdens while also advancing conservation goals, which are now available on a publicly accessible website. The study identifies numerous and widespread bright spots where there may be opportunities to protect both human and ecosystem health.
The study, which appears in The Lancet Planetary Health, was conducted by nearly 30 researchers from the United States and abroad. Academic researchers, practitioners from government and non-profit organizations, and veterinarians comprised the interdisciplinary team.
The interdisciplinary group worked on this synthesis for four years, according to Skylar Hopkins, an assistant professor of applied ecology at NC State and the study’s corresponding author. They painstakingly searched the existing academic literature for potential solutions before developing a new method for determining whether a particular “win-win” solution is safe, feasible, and cost-effective. They discovered that the solutions have varying degrees of success evidence; some have strong support already, while others are ripe for further investigation.
We like to think of these solutions like options on a bespoke menu. To select and design a solution that meets your needs, you’re going to need a lot of information. So we provide an evidence summary for each solution. We also created a decision process that anyone can follow, so researchers and decision-makers can design their own solutions or evaluate whether an existing solution will work in their situation.Skylar Hopkins
“We like to think of these solutions like options on a bespoke menu. To select and design a solution that meets your needs, you’re going to need a lot of information. So we provide an evidence summary for each solution,” Hopkins said. “We also created a decision process that anyone can follow, so researchers and decision-makers can design their own solutions or evaluate whether an existing solution will work in their situation.”
But Hopkins said that it wasn’t easy to evaluate some of the potential solutions.
“Sometimes the evidence for a potential solution conflicted,” Hopkins said. “One study would suggest that intervention would reduce human disease burdens and another study would suggest that the same intervention would increase human disease burdens. Potential solutions could also have trade-offs or collateral impacts, where the intervention was good for some people but not others.” The team had to develop a method for quantifying evidence diversity, consistency, and applicability to deal with these complications.
Only one solution has “high” evidence for both positive human health and conservation implications on the list of 46: vaccinating dogs to reduce rabies transmission to wildlife and people. Several solutions concentrate on domestic cats and dogs as disease reservoirs.
“Some of the 46 solutions proposed are being implemented on a large scale by national or international governments. Others can be accomplished on a smaller scale, even by individuals. You are implementing one of these solutions every time you vaccinate your pets or train your kitten to walk on a leash rather than roaming unsupervised” Hopkins explained.
The working group was funded by the Science for Nature and People Partnership after some team members had spent years studying human schistosomiasis in Africa — a debilitating disease caused by contacting water contaminated with parasites from snails. The snail population exploded when a river was dammed and prawns, which eat the snails, couldn’t migrate. The potential solution? Introduce prawns back into the river.
The team set out to find more examples of potential win-win solutions, unsure whether they would find many or few. They discovered that the 46 potential solutions cover six of the world’s seven continents (all but Antarctica), as well as many of the world’s major known pathogens and disease transmission methods. The solutions also address the majority of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, such as agricultural land-use change, urbanization, resource exploitation, and invasive species.
Twenty-seven of the solutions are centered on conservation efforts that also benefit human health; many of them involve managing species, such as snail parasites that contaminated village water sources. Six of the solutions involve public-health interventions that also benefit the environment.
“People often ask what my favorite solution is,” Hopkins said, “and it is difficult to choose! But I am forever impressed by the programs that aim to improve access to health care, education and livelihood opportunities for people living near protected forests, marine reserves or other biodiversity hotspots. When those communities have more power over their well-being, they can use resources more sustainably, which slows deforestation rates and marine degradation.”
Thirteen of the solutions are not specific to human health or conservation, but they have an impact on both. The researchers propose replacing wood-burning stoves with cleaner stoves to reduce deforestation and smoke-related illnesses.
“Policymakers are looking for ways to advance multiple sustainable development goals at the same time, such as “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all” and “conserving life on land and below water.” That is significant work, but it can appear abstract or intangible. We hope that this study will help to bring those efforts to life through real-world examples “Hopkins explained.