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Published On: Sun, Sep 28th, 2014

World Environmental Health Day: A celebration of inequalities?

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By isah Adamu

The World Environmental Health Day (WEHD) was declared for commemoration in 2011 by the International Federation of Environmental Health (IFEH) to bring world attention to the vital role of environmental health profession and services to the improvement of health and well-being of the earth’s inhabitants. The Council of the International Federation of Environmental Health Proclamation of 26th September 2011 as the foundational World Environmental Health Day which would be commemorated every September by diverse interests with stakes in Environmental Health the world over. In that famous declaration, the IFEH Council considered various fronts from which the noble profession of Environmental Health positively impacts, central to which is the continuing threats to human health posed by pollution, climate change, urbanisation, globalisation  and poverty, among others and the urgent need to adopt a preventive approach so as to maintain and improve the quality of the natural environment, air, water, food, housing and communities in order to reduce the impact of disease and the public health.

There is no gain-saying to stress the need identified by the Federation in addressing the hydra-headed problems associated with climate change, urbanisation and excruciating poverty to which the developing world is seriously exposed especially the sub-Saharan Africa where our dear country is located. The urbanisation occasioned by the Industrial boom of the early 19th century in Europe set the stage for the complex interaction between Man, his environment and Etiologic Agents of diseases. In the process, diseases hitherto unknown emerged including Plague and Cholera and devastated a sizeable population. In Great Britain, the Cholera outbreak in Northern London was traced to contamination of sources of drinking water with human excrements.

The Poor Law Commission which investigated the matter resulted in the enactment of the Public Health Act in 1848 which introduced a brand new public servant – the Nuisance Inspector responsible for monitoring human endeavours for the purpose of tracking infractions in daily life that could harm human health. This further gave rise to the metamorphosis of the Nuisance Inspector to that of Public Health Officer in 1950s, and finally the Environmental Health Officer in 1972 – spanning over a century. It is important to note that it did not end with just the change of nomenclature but rather encompassed the birth of a profession amidst the array of professions flourishing in Britain and elsewhere in Europe namely the Environmental Health Profession. This resonated to Nigeria where the Sanitary Attendants changed to the Sanitary Inspectors who worked in the then British colonies making the Senior Municipal Sanitary Officer a statutory member of the Legislative Council in 1913 on the amalgamation of both the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria. Like in Britain the transformation continued until the mid 1980s culminating in the designation, Environmental Health Officer (EHO).

This leads us to ask what environmental health means. Simply put, it refers to 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. This for sure is one of the integral parts of Public Health which aims at promoting health and prolonging life of the human being. In Nigeria this noble profession is composed of these components: waste management; food control and hygiene; pest and vector control; environmental health control of housing and sanitation; epidemiological investigation and control; air quality management; occupational health and safety; water resources management and sanitation; noise control; protection of recreational environment; radiation control and health; control of frontiers, air and sea ports and border crossing; pollution control and abatement; educational activities (health promotion and education); promotion and enforcement of environmental health quality standards; collaborative efforts to study the effects of environmental hazards (research); and environmental health impact assessment.(EHIA).

The Federation, in supporting the World Health Organization’s declaration through the World Health Assembly resolution (WHA65.8) which welcomed WHO’s move to facilitate equitable access to health by all through “all-for-equity” and “health-for-all” global actions, therefore decided to focus attention in this respect hence this year’s WEHD theme “ADDRESSING ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH INEQUALITIES”becomes very relevant most especially in Nigeria where the health sector is prepondently turned to medical circle with the Nation paying dearly for this. The WHO declaration significantly focuses most attention to the Social Determinants of Health as emphasized by the Commission which did the study and prepared its report from which the resolution was arrived at, that health equity was not only achievable but was the right thing to do. That is why Nigeria’s standing on the WHO Country profiles is nothing but discouraging as the gap between the poor and the rich, the educated and non-educated; the urban-based and the rural-based is so wide. These combine to paint a rather gloomy picture of Nigeria’s morbidity and mortality indices.


Isah Adamu wrote in from Kaduna.

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