An East Africa PHE Network Takes Root

In November 2007, an East Africa Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) network took shape at a conference convened by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and LEM Ethiopia, the Environment and Development Society of Ethiopia.

The conference, “Population, Health, and Environment: Integrated Development for East Africa,” held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, drew field practitioners, policymakers, researchers, the media, community leaders, and advocates from 22 countries and five continents. They explored ways to address development priorities in East Africa—such as poverty reduction, improved health, and natural resource management—through an integrated population-health-environment (PHE) approach.


It was probably one of the most successful conferences I’ve ever attended.


–Sahlu Haile, senior program adviser with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Ethiopia


Typically, development in East Africa has occurred within traditional sectors—such as health or conservation—with very little collaboration between sectors, said Melissa Thaxton, a PRB policy analyst. Thaxton organized the conference, which was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The conference gave people a forum to discuss a new vision for development and introduced others to the PHE approach.

An Integrated Approach to Development

The PHE approach to development acknowledges the connections between people and their environment and supports collaboration and coordination across sectors. The approach’s underlying philosophy is one of integration.

The PHE approach recognizes that the number of people, where they live, and how they live, all affect the environment. People alter the environment by clearing land for development, consuming natural resources, and producing waste. Changes in environmental conditions, in turn, affect human health and well-being. Rural poverty, rapid population growth, deforestation, and freshwater scarcity, for example, all occur at the intersection of population, health, and the environment.

The conference was the high point of a two-year strategic plan to lay the foundation for greater community- and policy-level PHE integration in East Africa. With USAID support, PRB partnered with the World Wildlife Fund, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Jane Goodall Institute. All these organizations are involved in population, health, or environment initiatives in East Africa. The partners felt the time was right for the region to scale up PHE activities. PRB used a Philippine PHE network it helped set up in 2004 as the model for the East Africa network.

A New Community Emerges

Thaxton noted that many people hadn’t known that other communities of people or organizations were working across sectors to address PHE issues. For example, a conference participant working in rural Kenya who thought he was alone in taking an integrated approach to development by incorporating health interventions into a larger conservation initiative discovered that Tanzanians and Ethiopians had similar projects.

Dr. Gelila Kidane, country director of the Ethiopia office of EngenderHealth, said she wouldn’t have thought it possible to work across sectors. “I was encouraged to learn from other countries’ experiences that it has been possible in Asia and Africa.” At the conference, she learned that environmental groups are concerned with the same issues that population and health experts are.

Florian Silangwa, assistant research fellow at the University of Dar es Salaam, believes what he learned at the conference has helped him prepare lectures and PHE research proposals.

The conference created one unexpected result: In addition to forming a regional East Africa PHE network, conference participants formulated action plans for their own countries. For example, teams from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania have begun country-level networks. “Every country has followed up,” said Thaxton. “It’s very exciting.”

Dr. Elizabeth Ekochu, deputy chief of Party, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Dissemination at UPHOLD, a USAID-funded project, was nominated chairperson of the Uganda team. She noted that the PHE conference changed how she’ll think about her work. She said she will “think PHE when programming health or population interventions.”


Suggested Resources

The East Africa PHE Network will serve as a forum for information exchange, community networking, accessing resources, and advocacy for greater cross-sectoral collaboration and PHE integration in the region. The Network Secretariat is located at the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development (NCAPD) in Nairobi. For more information about the network or to join, please e-mail

The following materials were among conference handouts: