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The Link between Human Health and Marine Ecosystem Health

September 1, 2014

The latest edition of the Marine Ecosystem and Management (MEAM) from the University of Washington has a great interview with Alasdair Harris, executive director of Blue Ventures, on the link between human health and marine ecosystem health.

In particular, Blue Ventures has found that by tackling public health needs, they improve the human security of coastal Madagascar, and in turn reduce the human stressors to the marine environment. Here’s the skinny:

The unmet health needs of the country’s semi-nomadic Vezo fishing communities are particularly acute, with clinics located up to 50 km away from some villages. In coastal western Madagascar, the fertility rate is nearly 7 births per woman. Fewer than 10% of Vezo women have access to contraceptives, despite up to 90% wanting to be able to plan their pregnancies. With the population doubling every 10-15 years, Vezo communities are finding it increasingly difficult to provide for their growing families. And overfishing and destructive fishing practices pose significant threats to the marine ecosystems upon which their livelihoods depend.

Our community health program, called Safidy (, meaning “the freedom to choose” in Malagasy, has been operational since 2007. Safidy was established in direct response to the unmet family planning needs of Vezo communities. It upholds reproductive rights by offering couples the information and contraceptive options they need to freely choose the number and spacing of their births. Results from this program have been published in both conservation ( and public health journals (

As for impacts, Blue Ventures has seen general fertility declines of up to 40% in the communities it has served. Now that’s impressive.

We now provide community-based health services to around 20,000 people and are scaling up across two additional LMMA zones. Within the 40 communities that we serve in and around the Velondriake LMMA in southwest Madagascar, the Safidy program has led to an increase in the proportion of women using contraception from under 10% to 55% in just six years. This has averted over 800 unintended pregnancies, leading to a decrease in the region’s general fertility rate by 40%. We know that addressing unmet reproductive health needs within this kind of context can also reduce maternal and child mortality by up to 30%.

Read the full interview here.

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