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No Insurance? On Borneo, This Clinic Accepts Manure

On the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, the Asri Clinic doesn't take credit cards. Instead, the clinic accepts payments that improve the local ecosystem, be it seedlings for replanting, eggshells for composting, even manure. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

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    It's not easy to run a clinic in this remote corner of Borneo. Patients come in with malaria, T.B., and diseases that should be treated much earlier. Most people are extremely poor, and health care is either unavailable or unaffordable.

    But this clinic, open since 2007, has flexible payment policies. They don't take credit cards, but they will take just about anything else, says the social entrepreneur founder Dr. Kinari Webb.

    DR. KINARI WEBB, founder, Health in Harmony: So, you can pay with baskets and woven mats. You can pay with labor. You can pay with labor either in the clinic or in our organic gardens. You can pay with seedlings that we use for reforestations or seeds. These are also eggshells, which we use for compost.


    Kidney patient Musadin agreed to pay partly with hard cash, partly with something, well, softer.


    People at our clinic can actually pay with manure.


    It's collected for an organic farm next to the Health in Harmony clinic. Dr. Webb says the idea is to treat, not just patients, but a larger rain forest ecosystem that's been under assault in Borneo for decades, starting when this vast island was under British and Dutch colonial rule and accelerating in recent years.


    It's not only about our physical health, which is incredibly important, and the physical health of the planet, but it's about our soul health. These — these rain forests and this biodiversity is exquisitely beautiful.


    But it's disappearing rapidly. These are the carcasses of lumber mills that fed Asia's economic boom in the '80s and '90s. They simply ran out of lumber, depleting large swathes of trees in a vast area around these factories.

    In their wake are oil palm plantations, producing cooking oil that's a lucrative export to markets across Asia. Nearby, people struggle on tiny plots of land. These, too, are carved out of the forests, which have shrunk by more 50 percent across Borneo which is now shared by Malaysia, tiny Brunei, and Indonesia, which officially protects small pockets of land in national parks like this one called Gunung Palung.

    These parks are the last refuge for orangutans, gibbons and millions of plant and animal species. And even though they're legally off-limits to any commercial exploitation, these parks are not immune from illegal logging. And conservationists who work here say the only way to stop it is to improve the lives of the desperately poor people who live here.

    Kinari Webb learned that when she came here in the early '90s. She originally came to study primates, but then was moved by the extreme poverty and poor public health.