PHE arrives in Belo sur Mer!

By Vik Mohan, Medical Director

Last month I visited Belo sur Mer to witness the excellent progress that Lison Garrel has already made in implementing our new Safidy community health programme in the area, integrating it into our existing community-based mangrove conservation activities. Lison has secured full approval from the local health authorities, established strong relationships with various health partners in the region, and developed a clear plan for improving provision of family planning services to our partner communities. She has worked really hard to develop a good understanding of the different villages we work with, and has recruited and helped to train eight community-based distributors (CBDs) from the least served villages in the region, home to some 5,000 people. These local women are now able to provide basic counselling and a range of contraceptive options within their communities. 

Lison with the director of the local health centre

Lison with the director of the local health centre

While in Belo, I was fortunate to be able to attend an educational event, run along similar lines to the evening presentations given as part of the Velondriake village outreach tours, and similarly well attended. At least 300 people (adults and children) came, all enthralled by the educational videos that were played and fully engaged in the interactive presentations given by our staff. Participants were clearly learning something about health and conservation, as evidenced by the answers that they give to the quiz at the end of the evening. It was also great to see how Lison has already identified a few local “champions” who can help in ensuring community support for Safidy and promoting the adoption of healthier practicies, which will be crucial for the success and sustainability of the programme.

Great turnout for the evening presentation at BSM

Great attendance at the evening presentation in Belo sur Mer – introducing the Safidy programme to the community

My impression is that Lison’s arrival, and the introduction of Safidy, has benefited Blue Ventures’ team in Belo sur Mer and the communities we partner with, by adding a new dimension to our work, broadening our approach from conservation to Population-Health-Environment, and giving us a new set of opportunities through which to engage with the local population. For Safidy, the benefits of integration into an existing community-based conservation initiative are also clear. Lison has been able to take advantage of our existing resources and infrastructure, as well as our strong local presence and good community relationships, to enable rapid and low-cost introduction of health services. Furthermore, having spent a good amount of time with our Safidy team in Andavadoaka, Lison has been able to draw upon their six years of experience, and will now be able to implement our “best practice” PHE model very quickly in Belo sur Mer. When I think about the lessons we learned in the early years of Safidy, what we are now able to achieve in Belo sur Mer, with less effort and in less time, is truly inspiring and a powerful reminder of how much we have grown as an organisation.

The team in Belo sur Mer work together to set up the projector and sound system for the evening presentation - integrating environmental and health topics

The team in Belo sur Mer work together to set up the projector for the evening presentation – integrating environmental and health topics

I had never seen a forest fire before, and was not expecting my time in Belo sur Mer to be marred by witnessing parts of the Kirindy Mitea national park go up in flames. Tragically, for practically my entire time in Belo sur Mer, we looked on as the park’s dry forest and associated biodiversity burned. It was heartbreaking to think of those unique plant and animal species literally going up in smoke. Although the source of the fire has not been confirmed, it is likely to have resulted from fires set near the park’s boundaries; a traditional practice by cattle farmers to clear old growth, which can be devastating when not properly controlled.

To me, this was yet another reminder of the importance of engaging communities in biodiversity conservation, and addressing their various needs in a holistic way. Seeing the sky blackened by the smoke from a fire in one of the world’s most ecologically important forests, I could not be more convinced of the value of taking an integrated approach to community-based conservation and sustainable development.

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Dr Vik Mohan is a practicing GP with a passion for marine conservation, and medical director of the Safidy community health programme which forms an important part of Blue Ventures’ integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach. Having developed expertise in expedition and dive medicine, Vik started as medical advisor to Blue Ventures in 2005. While working with coastal communities in southwest Madagascar, his medical perspective and interest in sexual and reproductive health led him to uncover a huge unmet need for health care, and family planning in particular. Having established that these communities were happy for Blue Ventures to provide health services, he opened the region’s first family planning clinic in 2007. After the overwhelmingly positive response to this first clinic, he developed the service into what is now a comprehensive community health programme (encompassing sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health as well as water, sanitation and hygiene, and a diverse range of community health education activities to promote sustained behaviour change) covering 40 villages across the Velondriake locally managed marine area. Through his understanding of the linkages between reproductive health, food security and marine conservation, Vik has enabled the inclusion of this work into Blue Ventures' programme portfolio to form a truly integrated PHE approach. He has helped to secure support and funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the UNFPA for the Safidy programme. Vik also works as Associate GP Dean for the Peninsula Deanery, and has drawn upon his skills as an educationalist to develop the educational component of Safidy. “I am totally convinced that Blue Ventures is developing the world's most effective and comprehensive model for integrating community health, sustainable coastal development and tropical marine conservation.”
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About Vik Mohan

Dr Vik Mohan is a practicing GP with a passion for marine conservation, and medical director of the Safidy community health programme which forms an important part of Blue Ventures’ integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach. Having developed expertise in expedition and dive medicine, Vik started as medical advisor to Blue Ventures in 2005. While working with coastal communities in southwest Madagascar, his medical perspective and interest in sexual and reproductive health led him to uncover a huge unmet need for health care, and family planning in particular. Having established that these communities were happy for Blue Ventures to provide health services, he opened the region’s first family planning clinic in 2007. After the overwhelmingly positive response to this first clinic, he developed the service into what is now a comprehensive community health programme (encompassing sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health as well as water, sanitation and hygiene, and a diverse range of community health education activities to promote sustained behaviour change) covering 40 villages across the Velondriake locally managed marine area. Through his understanding of the linkages between reproductive health, food security and marine conservation, Vik has enabled the inclusion of this work into Blue Ventures' programme portfolio to form a truly integrated PHE approach. He has helped to secure support and funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the UNFPA for the Safidy programme. Vik also works as Associate GP Dean for the Peninsula Deanery, and has drawn upon his skills as an educationalist to develop the educational component of Safidy. “I am totally convinced that Blue Ventures is developing the world's most effective and comprehensive model for integrating community health, sustainable coastal development and tropical marine conservation.”