Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Understanding Environmental Health

31st December,2005

By Sani Garba Mohammed

Despite the emerging and-emerging diseases and other environmentally related health problems, not much has been done to tame the environment so as to reduce disease burden and make the environment safe for our sustainable development for future generation.

For this misplaced priority, emphasis has always been curative rather than on prevention, which environmental health programmes aims to achieve. More so even health professionals like doctors, pharmacist, nurses etc are ignorant on what environmental health is, talk less of it relevant to them, so also policy makers and other peoples. For the mere pronouncing the word 'environmental', many brings in to their mind only issues pertaining waste and clean environment, no more no less. This article will look at what environmental health is, its functions and others for more understanding.

Environmental health has been defined by World Health Organization [WHO] as 'the control of all factors in man's physical environment which exercise, or may exercise, a deleterious effect on his physical development, health or survival. It is also a broad concept in public health, which is the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized community effort to ht society. Environmental health is also the principles and practices of affecting healthful and hygienic conditions in the environment to promote public health and welfare, improve quality of life, reduce poverty and ensure a sustainable environment.

Environmental health has been also describe recently as comprising of those aspects of human health, including quality of life, which is determined by physical, biological, social, and psychological factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing, correcting, controlling and preventing these factors in the environment that can potentially affect, adversely the health of present and future generations.

Environmental health services are organized community effort to monitor and modify man-environment relationships in the interest of better health [AJ Moses 2003]. It has also been noted that environmental health programmes are undertaken to prevent or limit disease and disability and to promote conditions for good health. Environmental health has also been accepted universally as a major health component be it public health or Primary Health Care.

"The environment" said Society for Environmental Health [SEHON] "is continually changing and introducing new threats to human health and living depending on the level of interaction. Health in this context is seen as a relative concept, which assumes that the environment is a proper standard for its definition. To this end, health could be seen as the ability of man to interact with the environment in a responsible manner and in a way that there is mutual benefit in a sustainable basis, without creating a situation where by environmental factors pose dangers to physical, mental, social, psychological and spiritual well being of man. This definition places enormous responsibility on man especially the protection of environment for his well being and safety.

The out come of environmental health services include: prevention, detection and control of environmental hazards which will affect human health. The following includes the functions or component of environmental health services: solid waste management; medical waste management; housing and environmental planning; food sanitation; sanitary inspection of premises; pest and vector control; epidemiological control; air quality management; occupational health and safety; market and abattoir sanitation; water sanitation; management of urban drainage; protection of recreational environment; pollution control; control of reared and stray animals; disposal of dead [man and animals]; port health services; environmental health impact assessment; weed and vegetation control; hygiene education and promotion and others [Journal of Environmental Health JEH March 2005, National Environmental Sanitation Policy 2005].

Based on these, it can be deduced that Environmental health services/programmes touches every aspect of life, wherever you are, whatever you do and whoever you are. For instance, while a medical doctor is fully in charge of his office, environmental health practitioner [aka Environmental health officer/Sanitarian], will not only look at the environmental health control of the whole hospital [which includes the doctors and others' offices], but equally look and approve whether or not a surgical operation can take place [depending on certifying of the air worthiness and safety within the operation premises], prevention of cross infections within the patients and many others. So the feeling or the belief of many that environmental health programmes in the management of waste and clean environment should be stop. Also the now arrogant [not all] community health practitioners [CHO] and others health practitioners should see reason not sentiment to know that environmental health services does not aims to stop their services, but to help them discharge their duties without much stress, as such we do not need to fight over avoidable issues.

The Federal, states and Local governments should allow environmental health practitioners to carry out their duties accordingly, for as at now, their work is not given attention, and also other professional like medical doctors, some segment of engineers and other quacks engage in the practice of environmental which is outside their professional training, there by making it all comers affairs. The Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria [EHORCN] should make sure there is full regulation and ensure no any quack [no matter his academic background] in as much as he is not a professional Environmental Health Practitioner to practice. So also we supposed to have a university offering a degree programme in environmental health so as to close the gap of lack and uneven availability of the practitioners in the country.

Sani Garba Mohammed, is of PHC Department, Karaye Local Government, Kano state.