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Saving Rainforest with a Stethoscope

Most of you probably don’t know Dr. Andrew Winterborn, mostly because you don’t have a need for contact with our university veterinarian. Educated at l’Université de Montréal followed by a three year residency in Comparative Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, Andrew has been the Queen’s University veterinarian for almost 8 years. Andrew takes enormous pride in contributing to our research mission through his work as a veterinary scientist, and anyone who interacts with Andrew understands just how lucky we are to have him at Queen’s.

A few weeks ago, Andrew told me about a recent initiative where he worked with a team from the Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester NY to bring medical supplies to residents of Borneo.

The supplies were put together by Health Partners International, which solicits donations from pharmaceutical companies to go into ‘Humanitarian Medical Kits.’ Customized to the community’s health needs, each kit is filled with medications and supplies.

In this case, Andrew and his colleagues were bringing $16,000 in supplies (which equated to one hundred pounds) to “ASRI klinik,” a community clinic in Borneo’s rainforest. Upon its arrival at the clinic, the supplies were immediately unpacked and within the day were being used to treat patients. “Jesse, a volunteer physician from Stanford University, shared with us a success story from that morning of a patient’s condition improving significantly because of the new supply of pharmaceuticals.”1

I thought that this story would make a great ‘good news’ piece for the blog, and I asked Andrew if I could share it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the delivery of medical supplies was part of a greater initiative; a project to preserve Indonesia’s rainforests.

We know that forests are an important part of any ecosystem. They regulate the air we breathe, our water, and the climate; and they are essential to the well being of humans.

In Borneo, however, the local economy relies heavily on the rainforest as a natural resource. “Many families are forced to make the impossible choice between short-term survival and future well-being,” because they rely on logging for their income. Without this income, they cannot access things like healthcare.2

The Alam Sehat Lestari Foundation saw an opportunity in this tension between short term and long term survival. They decided to dramatically improve health care access for these communities. This, in theory, would alleviate the pressure to cut down trees:

“Alam Sehat Lestari Foundation established ASRI Clinic that serves the local communities that dwell in one of the remotest Indonesian rain forests. ASRI Clinic is strategizing conservation through health care access improvement to protect the threatened rain forests of Gunung Palung National Park…The pay-through-labor program is just one element of this project that is empowering the communities around Gunung Palung to preserve the park, on their terms. Clinic prices keyed to the local economy are helping to break the cycle that pits human needs against nature.”3

And the program has done just that. Since 2007, the clinic has treated tens of thousands of patients, and there are now plans – through a partnership with Health in Harmony – to build a community hospital and training centre. This hospital will offer surgical, intensive care and emergency services to further meet the healthcare needs of these communities.4

And the rainforest is benefiting too. According to Health in Harmony, over 50% of the area’s former illegal loggers have received training in sustainable agriculture, and now earn an income through farming.

Andrew, supported by the Seneca Park Zoo keeper chapter of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is also involved with the Goat’s for Widows program. He has visited Borneo four times to train animal health workers in the husbandry of goats that have been provided to widows in villages surrounding Gunung Palung National Park. The goats provide valuable manure as well as an alternative income source. Since working in Borneo, Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Wildlife Health & Conservation-Seneca Park Zoo, and Andrew have been able to improve the health of the goats within the program. Whereas in 2013, only 35% of the goats were in an ideal body condition, this has improved to 67% in 2016. Most importantly, they have built local capacity so that this can become a self-sustaining program.

And so Andrew’s donation of medical supplies was not as simple as it first seemed. I am proud to highlight the important work that is happening in Borneo: from goats for widows to saving the rainforest with a stethoscope.

Please share your thoughts by commenting on the blog, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House…my door is always open.


Thank you to Jen Valberg for her assistance in writing this blog.



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