The United Nations bestowed its Champion of the Earth for Science and Innovation award for 2021 on Ugandan veterinarian, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, for her work in championing the “One Health” concept of simultaneously addressing the health needs of humans, animals, and the environment.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), much of Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka’s life has been spent in “impoverished East African communities that border protected areas, where she has helped improve healthcare and create economic opportunities, turning many locals into partners in conservation.”
“Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a pioneer in community-led wildlife conservation,” according to Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “In many places, economic pressures can cause friction between humans and animals. But her work has shown how conflict can be overcome when local communities take the lead in protecting the nature and wildlife around them, creating benefits for all species.”
In her youth, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka was surrounded by wildlife. Inspired to pursue her education internationally, she returned to Uganda to eventually become its first female veterinarian for the Uganda Wildlife Authority and to found her own organization, Conservation Through Public Health.
Her organization has been promoting hygiene and healthy sanitation practices in local Ugandan communities, eventually expanding its “model of village health” to protected areas near Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“When you show people that you care about them and about their health and well-being, you help them better co-exist with wildlife,” she says.
The UN conveyed its annual Champions of the Earth award to three other 2021 recipients, as well, including the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, for Policy Leadership, The Sea Women of Melanesia (Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands) in the Inspiration and Action category, and Maria Kolesnikova of the Kyrgyz Republic, in the Entrepreneurial Vision category.