Webb connects health and environment

A better future for developing countries involves asking locals what they want changed, according to Kinari Webb MED ’02.

Webb, who is the founder and president of Health and Harmony, an organization that connects environmental conservation efforts with healthcare initiatives, spoke to approximately 30 members of the Yale community on Tuesday in the Branford common room. In her talk, Webb explained how she came to start an organization that integrates the two fields she is passionate about, and described her current projects in Southeast Asia.

When Webb first traveled to Indonesia 20 years ago to study orangutans, she said she “just fell in love with the incredible biodiversity” and decided she wanted to become a doctor and work in the region.

“I came to realize how incredibly privileged I was,” Webb said. “I saw what it means to have no healthcare whatsoever.”

Using slides and data, Webb also explained the strain that growing populations put on natural resources. After finishing medical school, she said she returned to Indonesia with the goal of helping the local villagers pursue strategies to save the environment while improving their own lives.

Still, Webb said she was overwhelmed at first by the situation in West Kalimantan, where many inhabitants make a living by cutting down trees.

“When I first got there, I had no hope,” she said, adding that she nevertheless wanted to give her full effort to the project.

Webb said she formed her approach to bringing about a positive change in West Kalimantan villages by directly asking the people of the village what they thought was needed. In return, she said, the villagers asked for proper healthcare access and organic farming training. They also proposed the idea of “forest guardians” who could get to know the loggers in the area individually and help them find alternative occupations, she added.

Webb said Health in Harmony believes in finding win-win solutions to help people be healthy now and help the environment stay healthy for the future. Because the quality of training for many Indonesian doctors is so poor, Webb said her organization sends American doctors to Indonesia to train local physicians for a year so they can improve their methods of practicing medicine in the villages.

Health in Harmony also creates incentives for villages to “go green” by eliminating logging practices. When a village becomes green, nongovernmental organizations interested in environmental preservation have agreed to cover 70 percent of healthcare costs provided by the Health in Harmony clinics for the inhabitants.

“It’s working, and I’ve been really amazed,” Webb said.

Webb said the presence of Health in Harmony has also helped inhabitants of the villages find higher-paying occupations. The average income tripled within five years of the introduction of the program, she said. Increased wealth and better healthcare has enabled more kids to go to school, she added.

In the future, Webb said that she hopes to build a hospital, eradicate logging from the area completely and expand the geographical reach of Health in Harmony.

After the tea had concluded, a handful of students stayed to talk to Webb and exchange ideas on how to replicate the work she and her team have done in West Kalimantan in other regions.

Students interviewed were enthusiastic about Webb’s talk.

“It was interesting to hear the experience of someone that has a very extensive background and education,” said Nora Moraga-Lewy ’16, who is interested in environmental studies and hopes to pursue a master’s in public health. “To do something like this — that is not very typical.”

Prior to starting Health in Harmony, Webb completed her residency in Family Medicine at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, California.

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