Definition of Environmental Health
"Environmental health comprises those aspects of human health, including quality of life, that are determined by chemical, physical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in the environment. It 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 generation" (WHO).
The identification, evaluation, control as well as prevention through education of all those factors in the total environment which exercise a detrimental effect on individual physical, mental and social well being and development. It also implies continuous efforts to educate and prevent individuals from effecting the environment in such a way that it becomes detrimental to their well being and development.
The advent of new challenges such as rapid urbanisation and industrialisation need to be addressed simultaneously using a holistic approach to achieve aims as set out in a business plan and improving living conditions (especially in underdeveloped areas).
Definition of "Environmental Health Practitioner"
The City of Cape Town has Practitioners with specialised training in the discipline of environmental health that are recognised as constituting a specific professional group called Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP). The EHP is not only qualified at graduate level but must also have completed a period of compulsory practical training in the environmental health profession. EHP’s are also required to be registered with the Professional board Health professions Council of South Africa as Environmental Health Practitioners and is also required to develop skills trough a “Continued Professional Development” program in order to maintain their level of professional competency.
EHP’s are concerned with administration, inspection, monitoring, education and regulation as prescribed in environmental health legislation. They act as a public arbiter of environmental health standards, maintaining close contact with the community. They develop professional standards and apply them in environmental health. A vital function is to maintain effective liaison with other professional groups (inter-sectoral) who have a contribution to make in the promotion of environmental health in its widest sense.
The other professionals with whom liaison is appropriate include physicians, microbiologists, public analysts, civil building and sanitary engineers, veterinarians, health and safety enforcement professionals, environmental management professionals, architects, housing officials, water engineers, scientists, town planners, building control officers, prosecutors, layers, and all other service providers within the City of Cape Town’s Administration.
The Role of the EHP in Rendering Environmental Health Services
If the EHP is to make a significant contribution to providing Healthy Cities, then cognisance needs to be taken of the vital role the EHP must play with regard to cost effective preventative aspects of primary health, as opposed to expensive curative aspects. The functions of the EHP within the primary health system are diverse, and include: -
1. Health Education
- Food handlers - In addition to formal food handlers, special attention needs to be concentrated on informal street food vendors and hawkers.
- Schools - Health education programs in schools to be undertaken (lectures and distribution of pamphlets i.e. anti-litter campaign and worm infestation).
- Informal/Underdeveloped areas - Initiate awareness programs by providing information with regard to disease prevention, AIDS, Typhoid, informal slaughtering etc.
- General Public - Assist in education (Smoking, fly and rodent control measures).
2. Food (Formal and Informal)
- Promoting hygienic handling of food within all food establishments as well as informal sale of food (hawkers).
- Inspections, investigations (food poisoning), Condemnations, Education and Enforcement of legislation.
- Ensure compliance with the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (Sampling - Food composition, quality and labeling).
- Licensing of food premises.
- Surveys (Contamination from toxins) and the issuing of public warnings.
- Creating awareness with regard to the overuse of cooking oils.
- Monitoring for safe meat supplies.
- Ensure a safe milk and milk product supply,
- Promote safe access to drinking (potable) water
- Investigate complaints relating to water quality.
- Monitor water quality through regular sampling (Microbiological and Chemical).
- Monitoring of recreational water bodies (Vleis, dams and rivers) for possible pollution and contamination.
4. Infectious Disease Control
- Investigation of environmental factors relating to the spread of notifiable infectious diseases, and putting preventative measures in place to limit the spread thereof.
- Compiling case histories with regard to Hepatitis, Typhoid and Cholera etc.
- Cholera risk monitoring by means of placing "Moore Pads" at selected sampling points, and the analysis of results.
5. Shelter and Housing
- Promote the provision of dwellings, informal structures conducive to health (ensure adequate ventilation etc).
- Inspect informal settlements with a view to maintaining minimum hygiene standards and promoting better living conditions.
- Ensure safe and timeous disposal of domestic, industrial and medical waste.
- Evaluate and provide input where necessary as regards the efficiency of sewerage/waste/storm water systems.
- Monitor refuse generation by residents and business community.
- Ensure that problems related to sewerage removal in areas where inadequate infrastructure exists (bucket sanitation), are eliminated.
- Investigate flooding problems so as to provide input regarding future prevention. '
- Monitor and eliminate illegal waste water discharge into the storm water system (industrial effluent).
- Prevent and limit the spread of health significant pests throughout the community.
- Monitor and control all offensive trades.
7. Pollution Control
- Assist with monitoring in terms of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act and regulations related to smoke control.
- Investigate, prevent, measure and monitor noise pollution.
8. Community Participation
- Initiate, organise or attend community participation meetings where advice and guidance is required or offered.
- Promote awareness programs.
- 9. Planning and Building Development
- Assess and consider applications in terms of Land Use or Departures from the Zoning Scheme Regulations, insofar as the impact on environmental health is concerned.
- Examine building plans and conduct site inspections to ensure compliance with relevant health and building legislation.
- Enforce regulations with regard to facilities for the disabled.
10. Institutional Health and Safety
- The EHP is responsible for monitoring standards at crèches, schools, old age homes and other institutions.
11. Intersectoral Collaboration and Communication
- The EHP is in constant liaison with other professional disciplines (Mechanical Engineers, State Prosecutors, Architects, Doctors, Microbiologists and staff from other municipal and state departments).
12. Law Enforcement and Legislation
- Initiate legal proceedings where health education/guidance has failed, in terms of the Criminal Procedures Act.
- Providing evidence in court.
- Where possible, provide input with regard to improving health legislation.
- Implementation of legislation.
13. Additional/Diverse Tasks
- Undertake projects (emphasis on under developed areas).
- Provide input with regard to Environment impact assessments.
- Serve on task groups and committees to deliver input on environmental health.
- Responsible for criteria relating to exhumations.
- Implementation of Animal Keeping legislation.
- Participate in self developing courses.
- Involved in Civil Protection exercises/disasters.
- Training of student health professionals.