Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Enhancing Environmental Health Services In Nigeria

 Wilfred Sawa o

Amidst contentions about its mandate by some recalcitrant practitioners, Environmental Health Officers and Registration Council of Nigeria, EHRECON, is now poised to effectively discharge its regulatory functions, writes HARRISON EDEH.

For the Environmental Health Officers and Registration Council of Nigeria, EHRECON, there is no better time than now. Amidst recent controversies over its oversight functions with some stakeholders in the business, a land mark judgment has been delivered in their favour thus empowering them the full legal powers to regulate the activities of health workers in the country.
The body is statutorily charged with the mandate of regulating the activities of the profession. The council, as a parastatal under the federal ministry of environment was established by the Act 11 of 2002 to register environmental health officers and regulate the practice of the profession. It is not only empowered to register the practitioners, but to also practise same.
In 2007, the council started the regulation of the practices in the area of cleaning services, pest control, waste collection services, among others. The components of the environmental health include sanitation, which is very broad; it encompasses housing, environment, food and some other aspects.
Though it is not the council’s responsibility to carry out these services, those that are registered by the council are duly authorised to carry out these activities. Today, government is trying to bring in some private sector in the provision of services in the area of sanitation.
Finding has, however, shown that in several cases, people who are not authorised by the council carry out these functions in the areas that are of health significance. An unofficial statement from ENHORECON stated that, “in the hospitals where you have to deal with pathogenic organisms, when you bring people who are not trained to clean the hospitals, you discover that they carry out the jobs with minimum health precautions, and that is because they are not professionals”.
The mandate of ENHORECON cuts across the various aspects of sanitation. It involves personal hygiene, housing, environment, food and others. The World Health Organisation, WHO, has already said that 70 percent preventable diseases that are rampant in the world today could be avoided if greater emphasis was given to sanitation. The world body has thus taken the lead in the campaign for a more friendly and healthy environment.
Environmental health has been defined recently as comprising those aspects of human health, including quality of life, which is determined by physical, biological, chemical, social and psychological factors in the environment.
It also refers to the theory and the practice of assessing, correcting, controlling, and preventing these factors that can potentially and adversely affect the health of present and future generations. Environmental health programmes are organised community efforts to monitor and modify man-environment relationships for a better health.
Environmental health organisation essentially helps in the prevention, detection and control of environmental hazards which affect human health. The United Nations, through WHO, has equally specified that the control and maintenance of environmental health can be achieved through functions such as proper waste management, food control and hygiene, pest and vector control, environmental health control of sanitation, epidemiological investigation and control.
Others are air quality management, occupational health and safety, water resources management and sanitation, noise control, protection of recreational environment, control of frontiers , air and sea ports , and border crossing, pollution control and abatement, educational activities, as well as environmental health impact assessment.
Considering these factors, experts have advised that matters that are associated with ENHORECON ought to be handled professionally, like it is obtainable in the fields of engineering and medicine. Trained personnel ought to register with the legally institutionalised agency, ENHORECON, the body legally charged with the responsibility of regulating health practices in the country.
Unarguably, EHORECON can not be at every nook and cranny of the country. That is why it needs the official registration of all those that would work collaboratively with it in order to ensure a professional handling of its activities by those who are duly authorised to work on its behalf.
Recently, the council, in its continuous effort to maintain professionalism and standard, asked people who were involved in illegal practice to come and register with them in order to enhance compliance to the rule of law. But a group known as the Cleaners Association of Nigeria bluntly refused, assuming that the council had no powers to regulate them because according to them, they had already registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC.
After repeated warnings that they were practising in a regulated profession necessitating the need for their compliance, they rebuffed and headed for the court. That case lasted for almost four years, but eventually, the justice of the high court, Justice Bilikisu Bello Aliyu, delivered judgment in favour of EHORECON.
By implication, all corporate companies who are engaging in cleaning services but are yet duly registered with the council are advised to do so.
In Nigeria, the development of environmental health has a history. As far back as the 18th century, the colonial government took the issue of preventive health services seriously because of the need to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes, which was a major killer of colonial officials. They introduced the then sanitary inspectors to the colony of Lagos.
The position of the sanitary officer was a very top position in the then colonial government. That was why a senior Municipal Sanitary Officer was statutorily made a member of the legislative council in 1913 before the amalgamation of both the Southern and Northern Protectorates.
Following the establishment of council, efforts have been made to raise the standard of environmental health practice in the country. This is because environmental health has continued to play a major role in disease prevention, control and sustenance of environmental integrity worldwide.

According to experts, over 70 percent diseases that cause the highest morbidity and mortality rate in the country is environment related. This makes the control of environmental health practice crucial as it will assist government’s efforts to alleviate poverty, a programme that is central to the Millennium Development Goal, MDG.
In line with this development, Chief Mrs. Helen Esuene, the former minister of environment, housing and urban development, remarked that “the realisation that many practitioners of environmental health do not even know that their practices constitute environmental health practice has compounded the task of regulating their practice”.
Stressing further on the issue, the registrar of EHORECON, Mr. Augustine Ebisike, had disclosed that the landmark judgment in favour of the council would give them the full capacity to swing into the action of regulating the practice of the profession.
He also commended Lagos, Kaduna and Ondo states for engaging environmental health officers in conformity with the mandate of the body. He also remarked that EHORECON would not relent in its efforts towards ensuring that those who are averse to complying with its rules will be appropriately punished in accordance with the law.