“Government must prioritize and invest in environmental health in Ghana, since it is the backbone of quality health and well-being”
Environmental health is the branch of public health that is concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment that may affect human health. According to the World Health Organization, in its broadest sense, Environmental health comprises those aspects of human health, disease, and injury that are determined or influenced by factors in the environment.
Environmental Health also refers to the theory and practice of assessing, correcting, controlling, and preventing those factors in the environment that can potentially affect adversely the health of present and future generations.
It is noted however that, Environmental Health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments.
The objects of the Environmental Health Profession are; to assess, correct, control and prevent those factors in the environment that can potentially affect adversely the health of present and future generations; to preserve, protect, and improve the quality of life for human beings; to control those elements of the environment which cause, or may cause deleterious effects to the health and well-being of human populations or to the food and drink, lands, waters, atmosphere, shelter and other resources upon which humanity is dependent for survival; to prevent and control infectious, communicable and non-communicable diseases which have afflicted humankind through the centuries.
Who is then an Environmental Health Officer? an Environmental Health Officer is a person who is trained in the sanitary sciences, biology, chemistry, geology, physics, mathematic etc. and operates as an inspector or health official in the public sector or private industry, reviewing programmes and enforcing laws to protect public health.
He or she is also a public health professional whose responsibilities may include food sanitation and safety; air, water, and environmental protection; inspection of well-water and sewage-disposal systems; control of insect pests, and animals; disease control and epidemiology; housing, occupational; and institutional safety and sanitation and nuisance control.
According to Section 19 of the Public Health Act, 2012, (Act 851), an Environmental Health Officer is a health professional who is involved in health promotion, education and who controls activities that have adverse consequences on the environment, public health and safety. Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) play a significant role in all stages of disaster or pandemic management due to their many and varied areas of expertise.
These health professionals are well-placed to assess the impact of pandemics and disasters on populations and conduct evaluations of responses due to their population and community-based focus and holistic approach to their work in protecting public health and safety among the Ghanaian populace.
In Ghana, Environmental Health Professionals’ training and practice is been regulated by the Allied Health Professions Council of Ghana (AHPC) under the Health Professions Regulatory Bodies Act, 2013 (Act 857), and therefore they are registered and licensed before they can practice as applies to other health professionals.
Key amongst the duties and responsibilities of Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are; they inspect, control, and manages sanitation in public places, assists in community-based environmental sanitation campaigns and public education, educate the public on environmental health issues and regulations and enforces environmental health laws and policies.
These duties are performed through routine premises inspection (house to house), health education and promotion activities, sitting of household latrines for households, labour supervision of sanitary labourers and orderlies, market sanitation, inspection of public eating premises e.g. (restaurant). Also includes waste management, school health education programmes, slaughterhouse and abattoir duties (meat inspection), food safety (inspection of expire date of food items such as canned foods), vector control activities such as mosquito control, through disinfestations or fumigation.
It is a known fact that, Government prioritizing Environmental Health (Preventive Health) through robust budgetary allocations and human resource developing (training of qualified and competent Environmental Health Officers) as well as creating conducive atmosphere for strict enforcement of the environmental sanitation bye-laws without gross political interference, will absolutely and definitely ensure good environmental sanitation in our communities, and about ninety percent (90%) of reasonable preventable environmentally related diseases and infections such malaria, cholera, typhoid, and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) would be prevented, reduced or eliminated.
Interestingly, research has shown that, the country's top ten (10) diseases from our Outpatient Department (OPD) attendance are environmental health and sanitation related, it is however mind blowing and illogical to transfer these cadres of health professionals from the direct management of the healthcare delivery system, i.e. from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) without the accompanied human and financial resources allocation as cited in the Environmental Sanitation Policy (MLGRD) (2010), that has further crippled the prospects of Environmental Health profession and its practice in Ghana.
If the Government , and its agencies such as the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ghana Health Service (GHS), developing partners (DP), civil society organizations (CSOs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and the private sector would prioritize Environmental Health, as they do prioritize curative health currently, by earmarking funds for the construction of new hospitals, nursing and midwifery training schools, for human resources and skills development of nurses and midwives, Ghana could be free of poor environmental sanitation in our major cities, towns and villages which has its resultant effects and dire health implications such as malaria, cholera, typhoid, air pollution, and contamination of water bodies through the disposal of liquid waste (faecal matter).
The old aged adage that says “prevention is better than cure” is ironically the opposite in Ghana which is “cure is better than prevention”, a very sad reality indeed.
Samuel Yaw Agyemang-Badu
Environmental Health Expert
Senior Health Tutor in Environmental Health and Sanitation
Member, Allied Health Professions Council of Ghana
[email protected] +233244371065
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