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How Affordable Healthcare Is Saving the Rainforest

Last year in this magazine, I wrote about a unique organization that is trying to help preserve Borneo’s forests by offering villagers better access to healthcare in exchange for protecting trees. At the time, I was desperate to get hard data on whether the strategy really works. Now, at last, that organization, Alam Sehat Lestari (and its U.S. partner Health in Harmony), has released results from their five-year follow-up survey of the 25 villages where they work.

No surprise, setting up a quality clinic has done wonders for the locals' health. Common diseases symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and cough -- which can indicate malaria or tuberculosis -- are all down in these communities. Infant mortality has declined by 18 percent, and immunizations are up by 25 percent.

So what about the environment? According to ASRI, the number of households with active loggers has declined by from 9 percent to 3 percent. In addition to providing discounts on healthcare to villages that renounce logging, ASRI also provides programs on sustainable farming practices and conservation. About half of the loggers that take part in Health in Harmony’s programs subsequently change careers. “Five years ago there were more than 100 people in my village doing illegal logging,” village headman Pak Bastarin said at one ASRI meeting, “Now there are less than 10.”

Hat tip to