Monday, January 28, 2013

Now that FUTO establish Institute of Environmental Health

By Sani Garba Mohammed

Environmental Health remains at the periphery of sustainable development, because it is inadequately defined, rarely quantified, and institutionally fragmented. Failing to address environmental health amplifies the burden of diseases, which impinges on Sub-Saharan Africa's overall economic performance and well being of the population especially the poor.

---James A Listorti et al

The dearth of Environmental health practitioners better known as Environmental Health Officers [EHOs] in Nigeria is a great set back to the healthcare delivery which is making not only primary health care services off target, but equally other health services.
This is because "to a greater extent" said Aniefiok Moses, Journal of Environmental Health June 2006, "the development of environmental health in Nigeria has been retarded due to the dominant influence of the medical profession, which assumed superiority and erroneously annexed everything health into medical practice.....”
This strange marriage existed for so long that it was near impossible to established or convince anyone that Environmental health was a profession. Whereas, World Health Organization has recognized Environmental Health as a profession, it was totally impossible to say so among policy makers in the health sector in Nigeria, more so, even in Britain, where the development of Environmental Health started in 1877, it was not recognized and regarded as profession until 1956. Here in Nigeria it in 2002 that environmental health was recognized as a profession by act no 11 of 2002.

Notwithstanding that 70% of Nigeria's health problems are environmental health related, effort directed at improving environmental health services are challenges by structural and political problems [like weak governmental policy and legislation, high level of ignorance, poor political will and commitment, poor funding, etc.]; environmental and technological problems [like poor training and human resources development]; and attitudinal and psychological problems.

Educationally, most of the practitioners stops at Higher National Diploma, being the highest educational level they can attain after scrapping its degree programme being offered by the then university of Ife, now obafemi Awolowo University in 1980s due to professional biasness, and all effort to retard the profession was placed by those who see it as threat to them. These, nonetheless, could not stop the profession to continue to exist and salvage Nigeria from unquantifiable loss to issues address by environmental health practice.
With the coming of Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria [EHORECON] on board, it gives emphasis on education, went to many universities across the nation for the possible starting of degree programme in environmental health, but dearth of manpower affected the move until 2011 and 2012 when Federal University of Technology, Owerri [FUTO] and Kwara State University started respectively, and many more are coming.

FUTO pioneer the degree programme in collaboration with EHORECON for HND holders, and the progress made so far, couple with the ever increasing demands of environmental health practitioners across the country, and in order to tap to maximize the situation makes the current Vice Chancellor, The most Environmental health friendly VC, Prof CC Asiabaka to establish a pioneer Institute of Environmental Health Technology, the first of its kind not only in Nigeria, but across West Africa, to challenge the dearth of manpower.

The objectives of the institute include the following: to run certificate, Post-graduate Diploma, M.Sc/M.EH and Doctor of Philosophy degree courses in Environmental health sciences [Ph.D.] or Doctorate degree in Environmental Health [D.EH]. as well as to mount special undergraduate program for professional Environmental Health Officers [EHOs] with Higher national Diploma [HND] in environmental health technology from West African Health Examination Board [WAHEB]; To provide technical and advisory services to its members, Nigeria and the ECOWAs region in all areas of Environmental health, including but not limited to water supply, liquid waste and excreta disposal, solid waste management, water resources management, coastal zone management [including beach pollution control], air pollution, occupational health, health, safety and environment, pest and vector control, pesticide use and application, toxicity assessment, disaster prevention and preparedness, environmental epidemiology, environmental toxicology, hospital sanitation, ecological sanitation, institutional sanitation, food sanitation and safety, abattoir and market sanitation, community-led total sanitation, natural resource conservation, environmental institution development and socio-economic, built environment sanitation, Environmental health emergencies and planning, etc.; to promote and collaborate in the planning of symposia, workshops, and on-the-job training for environmental health professionals in Nigeria and beyond; To conduct certificate courses, seminars, symposia and other workshops at either the institute or other selected regional institutions; to arrange and accept grants for financing scholarships and fellowships to facilitate the training of environmental and public health personnel or people in allied professions/public health;  to act as a national or regional reference centre for the collection and dissemination of technical and scientific information, and a focal point for various environmental monitoring networks for the collation, collection and dissemination of environmental health data, especially health-related, in Nigeria and in the sub-region; to promote and coordinate applied research relevant to the environmental health problems in the Eastern zone and Nigeria as a whole as well as to provide laboratory services and other related environmental services for Nigeria, in accordance with the needs of Nigerians, etc.

The pioneer Coordinator, environmental health programme, and the current head of department, Public health, and an indispensable resource person in Environmental/Public health practice in West Africa, Prof Amadi A. N expressed his appreciation to the VC, principal officers and the Senate of the university for graciously approving the institute, which when fully operational shall excel and make a great impact in shaping environmental and public health practice across West Africa.
With this landmark development, the institute can address the challenges of Environmental health practitioners in many areas of specializations; equip them with technical knowhow in research, evidence based practice and other development that will change the trends of health care policies in Nigeria to a better, efficient and reliable one.
For my fellow environmental health practitioners, it is a chance and a challenge to further their knowledge on the current and modern evidence based practice, to appreciate the prospects of their profession. There is no excuse of not seeking knowledge, it is you either joins the train of progress sown by FUTO or remain static and be left behind. A stitch in time saves nine, FUTO has started, and this is just the beginning.

Sani Garba Mohammed, public health department, federal university of technology, Owerri

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