Human health and environmental health are intricately linked. For example, when the veterinary drug Diclofenac unintentionally caused mass vulture mortality in India, free-ranging dog populations increased with readily available carrion, and thus human rabies cases from rabid dog bites skyrocketed. The solution to this problem was to ban the use of Diclofenac, with the hopes that alternative veterinary drugs would allow vulture populations to rebound and human rabies risks to decrease--an “ecological lever” for improving environmental and human health. Solutions like this are in high demand by sustainability researchers and practitioners, but there is no central data repository for all such solutions. Therefore, the Ecological Levers for Health Working Group, a Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) team, worked together to define, identify, and synthesize all “win–win” solutions for conservation and human infectious disease control.
As they embarked on their synthesis effort, the Ecological Levers for Health team realized that different team members defined the term “win–win” solution differently. Digging through the sustainability literature, they discovered that published papers often used the term “win–win”, but it was rarely defined, and the existing definitions varied. So the team developed a framework to distinguish win–win solutions from other possible outcomes for nature and people, which is now published in Nature Sustainability.
This new framework helped the team understand how different outcomes for conservation and health were related. For example, lose–lose scenarios and win–win scenarios share the same positive underlying correlations; that’s why the lose-lose scenario of declining vulture populations and increasing human rabies risks could be reversed by banning Diclofenac, creating a scenario where vulture populations are restored and human rabies decreases (a win–win). This suggests that many (or even all) lose–lose scenarios might have win–win potential. It also illustrates a common pattern where win–win solutions are attempts to restore previously degraded systems--”sick care” for unwell socio-ecological systems, rather than “preventative care” for maintaining healthy systems.
Equipped with an operational definition for win–win solutions, the Ecological Levers for Health team performed a systematic literature review to find as many example solutions that advance conservation goals and reduce human infectious disease burdens as possible. Their search returned 47 proposed solutions across the world that addressed many diverse conservation threats and human infectious diseases. For each of the proposed solutions, the team created a one-page summary to describe the available evidence for success. All these summaries will be available in an online database that can be used by researchers, practitioners, educations, and anyone else to find and evaluate solutions. The vulture case study is already publicly available here.
Skylar Hopkins, a former National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) postdoc and member of the Ecological Levers for Health team, led the solution synthesis project, which will be published in the coming year. Hopkins, who is now an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, said, “Our team has talked to so many researchers and practitioners who want to find and implement win–win solutions for conservation and health. They’re excited about their potential, but frustrated by how difficult it is to point to examples and evidence. We hope our work makes it easier for everyone to find and evaluate win–win solutions.”