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Could a Portland Nonprofit be Pointing the way to Preventing the Next Global Pandemic?

What if we could prevent pandemics, rather than scrambling to treat them once they occur? Anyone old enough to read this knows exactly what the latter approach looks like. Just three short years ago, it seemed, the world stopped turning. COVID-19 sickened millions and also diseased the economy. During 2020 and a large chunk of 2021, we died in droves. We missed each other. We missed opportunities to grow businesses. We missed being in the classroom. We missed church, we missed sports, we missed Broadway. Don’t get me wrong – scientists did amazing work coming up with a vaccine for an illness they hadn’t even heard of months before. And in a remarkable act of bipartisan collaboration, Congress acted quickly to set up relief programs. Pretty well done, considering, right? But do you want to go through that again? The odds we will in our lifetimes are good.

Unless we do more to prevent pandemics.

The respected news site ProPublica has pushed out an investigation on the link between the clearing out of forests and “spillover,” the moment a virus jumps from animals to humans.

Part of ProPublica’s series features a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit you may not have heard of. It’s called Health in Harmony and its focus is on saving rainforests and fighting climate change. Through their work, the investigation says, the nonprofit, “may have stumbled upon a way to help prevent the next pandemic.”

(Image: ProPublica)

In 2019, Health in Harmony was working in southeast Madagascar, where locals made sparse livings as loggers, selling timber and charcoal. What would it take to preserve the rainforest and save human lives, they wanted to know. The answers were healthcare, jobs, and food. The nonprofit began working to provide those solutions. They brought in mobile healthcare clinics and began teaching locals how to farm more sustainably.

Could saving the forests save the world from further pandemics? Health in Harmony, ProPublica said, “is demonstrating how working creatively across health, agriculture, and the environment may be the key to prevention.”

I did not reflexively “share” the series without doing a little digging. I read Health in Harmony’s impressive annual impact report. They’re making a difference. And I pulled their 990’s, the annual reports nonprofits are required to file with the IRS. Are their executives living high off the hog? Hardly. Are they spending excessively for office space? Nothing out of the ordinary, at all. A leading site that tracks nonprofits – Candid-- gives them a “platinum” rating for transparency.

I’m not as well-versed as I should be on climate change or other environmental issues and have never hugged a tree. But this is fascinating and worthy of action.

Postscript: ProPublica has an excellent daily newsletter you can subscribe to, and you can support their worldwide, world-class work as well. Visit

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