Environmental health remained unregulated in Nigeria over the years until 2002, when the democratic government then decided to grant it professional recognition through the enactment of the Environmental Health Officers (Registration, etc) Act 11 of 2002. The Act established the Council charged with the responsibility of regulating Environmental Health profession in Nigeria. The specific objectives of the Council include:
The first Council of eleven members was inaugurated in March 2004 by Col. Bala Mande (rtd), the then Hon. Minister of Environment, on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Since then, the members have dedicated themselves to the cause with great determination, in the face of daunting challenges to carry out the mandate of the Council. To this end, the Council opened register in July 2004, in which members have been registering. It has developed various curricula for the training of its members and has also been conducting examinations for new entrants into the profession. The Council is reaching out to other professional bodies and stakeholders for the proper regulation of the field and is determined to continue to explore every avenue to ensure that Nigerians live in an environment devoid of hazards and threats to their lives, which also increase disease burden, which is currently more than 70% environment related in the country.
Environmental Health Practice
Environmental health has been defined recently as comprising of 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 practice of assessing, correcting, controlling, and preventing these factors that can potentially affect, adversely the health of present and future generations. Environmental health programmes are organized community efforts to monitor and modify man environment relationships in the interest of better health.
Environmental Health is a major branch of public health, which plays a significant role in disease prevention, control and the sustenance of environmental integrity. It has been defined 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’. Environmental Health therefore is a broad concept in public health, which is ‘the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized efforts of the society.
The outcome of environmental health organization is the prevention, detection and control of environmental hazards which affect human health through the following functions as specified by World Health Organization:-
Environmental Health Practitioners
Environmental Health Officer (EHO) is one of the health professionals whose creation was based on need and exigencies rather than desire or sentiments. This was the case since 1831 in Britain when the first set of Sanitarians were put together to control the worst cholera outbreak in that country. The 1848 Public Health Act provided for the appointment of Inspector of Nuisance to tackle sanitary issues.
The Inspector of Nuisances as of then had no qualification, and their main job was to point out all breaches of sanitary regulations and enforce the byelaws and rules of the council and health committee. It is worthy of note that in the 1846 Liverpool Sanitary Act, the Inspector of Nuisance was defined as an officer of the council independent of the Medical Officer of Health, but by nature of his functions, cooperates closely with him. It should also be noted that as far back as 1860, Edmund Parkes, the first Professor of Hygiene developed Military Hygiene into a science before the Army Medical School became the Royal Sanitary Institute, and Inspectors of Nuisance have had their recognition not just as health professional but as key operators in the prevention of diseases.
In 1877, the Royal Sanitary Institute was introduced with specific training for Nuisance Inspectors. With the acquired skills and knowledge, their role changed with the change in title in 1956 to Public Health Officer, and again in 1974 to Environmental Health Officers. These changes mirrored increasing expertise, as inspector acquire more knowledge about pollution and other environmental hazards.
In Nigeria, the pattern and change in nomenclature followed that of Britain; from Sanitary Attendants in the 1915s to Sanitary Inspectors of 1930s, to Health Superintendents of 1970s, and to (EHOs) in 1988, which brought the nomenclature in line with the international recognized and accepted name for the practitioners. The EHOs came into existence in Nigeria as a distinct occupational group during the colonial era and they were known as Sanitary Inspectors. Their duties included sanitary inspection of premises, control of infectious disease such as yaws, small pox and other such diseases; disinfections and disinfestations, liaison with other professional groups on disease control efforts, prosecution of sanitary offender, verification of notices issued and enforcement of environmental health standards, laws and regulations.
Sanitary Inspectors were a force to reckon with in the colonial era in the area of preventive health services in Nigeria. This cadre of professionals forms the backbone of environmental health services worldwide. Their training is related to the environmental health aspect of a cross-section of development sectors, with emphasis on inter-sectorial liaison, community participation and health promotion.
EHOs today may be regarded as the general practitioners of public health since they are in daily contact with the source of ill health in the community, but their training, qualification and job evaluation put them at par with any other professional group with specific responsibility on environmental health control. This is enormous responsibility, which is capable of lifting the profession and the practitioners to the sky, can equally bring them to the mud. EHOs therefore must take the challenge and responsibility for failures in the health status of our communities as their role in disease prevention, health promotion and rehabilitation is a direct consequence (positive or negative) of how we fare. It is the failure of environmental health control programmes that determine what happen in the other spectrum of the health care delivery system, more so as over 70% of health problems on Nigeria are environment related.
EHOs are well placed to participate meaningfully in new approaches to environment and health management. Presently, there exist a scientific society, the Society for Environmental Health of Nigeria and an Environmental Health Officer’s Association of Nigeria, a professional group whose aim is to protect and promote the welfare of the professionals. The profession also has sub-professional groups that must work under the supervision of the EHOs. These cadres include:
The challenges posed to mankind by inadequate management of environmental factors, emerging and re-emerging of infectious diseases in our communities, have necessitated the need to regulate the profession and strengthen the professionals.
To perform environmental health functions effectively, the EHO requires: (i) investigative skill; (ii) analytical skill; (iii) communicative skill; (iv) educative skill; (v) organizational skill and (vi) attitudinal skill.
EHO activities include:-
- improve and protect human health from environmental hazards,
- enforce environmental health legislation,
- develop liaison between the inhabitants and local authority, and between local authority and higher authority,
- act independently to provide advice on environmental health matters,
- initiate and implement advocacy and health promotion and education programmes to promote an understanding of environmental health principles.
xiv. Operate in a managerial capacity, due to his range of functions, in collaboration with other environmental agencies and services.