In the heart of southeast Madagascar, a place once known as the “green island,” Jocelyn’s life revolved around the forest. A legacy of logging passed down through generations was the norm, a perilous path that risked not just legal consequences but also the delicate balance of the Manombo Special Reserve. However, Jocelyn’s story took an unexpected turn in 2019 when Health In Harmony, an American nonprofit, initiated a transformative dialogue with the villagers living around the reserve.

A Pioneering Solution to Preventing Pandemics

Focusing on health care, job alternatives, and sustainable agriculture, Health In Harmony aimed to break the cycle of deforestation and its potential role in sparking pandemics. Recent research indicates that deforestation brings humans closer to wildlife, increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases. Health In Harmony’s unique approach seeks to address this link by creatively working across health, agriculture, and environmental conservation.

The Indonesian Pilot

Venturing into rural Indonesia on the island of Borneo, Health In Harmony partnered with Stanford University researchers to analyze a decade of patient records and satellite images. The results were striking averted deforestation, and significant declines in malaria, tuberculosis, neglected tropical illnesses, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. The success in Indonesia fueled the expansion of Health In Harmony’s program to Madagascar in 2019.

A Biodiversity Hot Spot at Risk

Nestled off the southeast coast of mainland Africa, Madagascar’s rich biodiversity makes it a potential hotspot for emerging viruses. The Manombo reserve, once pristine, now bears the scars of slash-and-burn farming and illegal logging. Enter Jocelyn, once a logger, now a paid “forest guardian” working to protect the very ecosystem he once exploited.

A Holistic Approach in Action

In October last year, Health In Harmony’s van rolled into Karimbelo, a coastal village on the southern edge of the Manombo reserve. What was once a three-hour trek to a distant government clinic has transformed into a bi-monthly visit from health care teams equipped with affordable medicines. The villagers pay for treatments using cups crafted from local reeds, a currency that simultaneously supports reforestation efforts.

The Impact on Agriculture and Livelihoods

Beyond healthcare, Health In Harmony addresses the root causes of deforestation by supporting farmers. Innovative agricultural practices, including introducing new crop varieties and sustainable farming techniques, have not only reduced reliance on the forest but also enhanced food security. Bruno, the king of Morafeno village, testifies to the program’s effectiveness in alleviating hunger and building resilience against climate change.

Challenges and Future Endeavors

While Health In Harmony’s impact is evident, challenges persist. The siloed nature of grant giving, with divisions between health care and conservation funding, poses hurdles. The organization’s intersectional work often falls through the cracks. Additionally, the limited duration of typical grants doesn’t align with long-term projects such as growing cloves and coffee, posing a challenge for sustained impact.

Madame Fanja’s Story

Yet, amidst challenges, success stories emerge. Madame Fanja, once a part of the timber industry, halted logging to lead her village in establishing a tree nursery. Her green initiative not only contributes to reforestation but also symbolizes a personal commitment to repair the environmental damage she once caused. It reflects a broader transformation within the community as they recognize the interconnectedness of human health, animal well-being, and environmental preservation.


In a world grappling with the consequences of environmental degradation and the looming threat of pandemics, Health In Harmony’s innovative model stands out. From the lush landscapes of Indonesia to the biodiversity-rich haven of Madagascar, this nonprofit is proving that a holistic approach, addressing health, agriculture, and the environment in tandem, can be a powerful tool for prevention.

As we witness the transformation of once-exploitative loggers into forest guardians and the shift from reliance on the forest to sustainable farming, it becomes clear that Health In Harmony is not just healing the Earth but also the lives intertwined with it. The story of Jocelyn, Madame Fanja, and countless others serves as a beacon of hope, illustrating that a harmonious relationship between humans and the environment is not just possible but essential for our collective well-being.