Health and Wellbeing
Protected areas can provide direct benefit to physical, spiritual and mental health; resources for both modern and traditional medicines; and can regulate against detrimental health effects from infectious diseases.
Global health issues continue to feature prominently in development strategies, as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals and the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals and related targets. The majority of deaths worldwide now stem from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) rather than infectious diseases. Four diseases account for most deaths worldwide: cardiovascular disease; cancer; chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. These diseases are driven by forces that include unhealthy environments and unhealthy lifestyles; two issues where protected areas are well placed to provide powerful health promotion options. There is increasing recognition that protected areas can provide direct health benefits including: (i) opportunities for physical exercise; (ii) locations and activities that are beneficial to mental health; and (iii) a range of other well-being benefits linked to therapeutic activities.
Healthcare is unevenly distributed globally. Every year millions of people in developing countries die unnecessarily young as a result of malaria, and from other diseases caused by contaminated water and malnutrition. For many of the world’s poorer people, medicines remain a locally-collected and traded product that is their main resource for meeting primary health care needs. Today many of these are obtained from protected areas as they no longer occur in degraded landscapes. Working with local people to ensure collection of medicinal plants is on a sustainable and controlled basis can provide important long-term social, cultural and livelihood benefits.
Medical drugs derived from natural products support a huge pharmaceutical industry. Protected areas can under controlled circumstances act as resource areas for bioprospecting to derive active components that can then be developed as new drugs. Such limited collection can be consistent with conservation, and some protected areas have been successful in developing financial agreements to permit careful bioprospecting and ensure equitable benefit-sharing.
Just as environmental degradation and pollution are damaging to health, conversely conscious ecosystem management can have positive health effects. Conserving or restoring forests can, for example, reduce the risk of malaria and certain other diseases by helping block disease vectors such as mosquitoes. Diarrhoea, linked to dirty water supplies, kills millions of children every year. Clean water for drinking and domestic use is critical to good health. Watersheds retaining natural vegetation, particularly forests, provide cleaner water than more degraded watersheds.
The Healthy Parks Healthy People concept links protected areas and people to boost both physical and mental health. It came from collaboration between Parks Victoria in Australia and the states mental health officials, but has since been duplicated in many other countries. HPHP has a specialist group in WCPA. Link to the main HPHP website here: