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The role of environmental health and institutions of higher learning in the light of the City’s growth and development strategy (GDS) was the focus of a seminar held at the Roodepoort Theatre.
POSITIONING environmental health at the forefront of local, provincial and national policy is extremely necessary for government. This was highlighted at a seminar hosted by the environmental health department of the City, together with the social development department, on 25 May.

Health & PovertyConvening under the theme “Gearing environmental health for the growth and development strategy 2040”, the session, held at the Roodepoort Civic Centre, looked at ways to engage with various stakeholders more thoroughly. The Joburg 2040 strategy is an aspirational document that defines the type of society Joburg wants to become by 2040. It is premised on four pillars: economic development; governance, human and social development an sustainable cities.

“We do not engage adequately regarding matters affecting environmental health service delivery,” said deputy director of the environmental health department, Joe Shikwambane.

“We also tend to engage mostly on operational matters, and we have to look at the entire environment in which we operate.”

To help foster a deeper level of commitment, officials from other Gauteng municipalities including Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Mogale City and Sedibeng were present, as were representatives from provincial and national departments.

Shikwambane said the biggest challenges to overcome were climate change, re-emerging diseases and increasing resistance by parasites.

“Diseases and other threats to human health depend largely on local climate,” he said.

Discussing the role of environmental health and institutions of higher learning in light of the City’s growth and development strategy (GDS), which was launched in October 2011, was therefore the focus of the seminar.

“As the City, we have seen the importance of planting a seed towards addressing these matters. We hope that the experts here today will equip us with the know-how to position ourselves properly in meeting the demands brought about by the challenges facing us,” he said.

Murdock Ramathuba from the national directorate of environmental health concurred, suggesting that the seminar be held annually.

“We are considered by many other countries as a role model,” he explained.

Murdoch RamathubaPeter Manganye: Joburg hopes to become a city where everyone has good, healthy food“Environmental health is regarded as part of primary healthcare services and the link between it and ill-health is well established. We know if we improve environmental hygiene, we will improve health.”

He added that government’s environmental health policy has, for the first time, been published for public comment and norms and standards such as water quality and health waste have been drafted into it. This is to emphasise the importance of it being incorporated into the operations at all tiers of government.

Ramathuba urged all environmental health practitioners to get actively involved and comment on the policy as they are the people on the frontline.

Making this policy work at local level is vital, and director of the City’s environmental health department Peter Manganye was on hand to discuss how this could be done in line with Joburg’s vision for 2040.

“Joburg hopes to become a city where no one goes hungry and where everyone has good, healthy and nutritious food,” he said.

This, however, will not be easy in a city which has approximately 180 informal settlements, which are in turn home to almost 200 000 households.

The challenge of the quadruple burden of disease - chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiac arrest arising from an unhealthy lifestyle, diseases of poverty and underdevelopment, high levels of injury and HIV/Aids - will not make the task any easier either.

Furthermore, a shortage of professionals in the field such as environmental health practitioners and pest control operators as well as operational difficulties like budgetary constraints, sanitation, illegal dumping and water pollution make environmental health tricky. Other challenges come in the form of climate change, rapid urbanisation and rodent infestations. 

Barn owl The City is using barn owls to control rodents Focusing on water, food, air, land and buildings for home, work and recreational environments, the City will facilitate and promote environmental health through effective management and partnerships. This means tackling municipal health services, pest control and food control, among other challenges.

There have been various successes achieved by the City in this regard.

“Our achievements include the provision of a full range of municipal health services, hosting a successful 2010 Soccer World Cup, training informal food traders, rabies campaigns and vector control conferences,” Manganye said.

A campaign called ‘fighting rodents the natural way’ has also been rolled out, most notably in Alexandra. It involves using barn owls as an ecological means to control large rat populations.

“By aligning environmental health services to the Joburg 2040 vision, the City will focus on ward-based planning and deployment of environmental health services and personnel,” said Manganye.

Other topics discussed on the day include health promotion in environmental health, food control, port health services and environmental health ethics and professionalism.

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