A focus on using technology to improve environmental health was one of the outcomes of the annual South African Institute of Environmental Health conference this week – hosted for the first time in the Western Cape. Read more below:
The City of Cape Town has committed to working with the South African Institute of Environmental Health to explore ways to assist environmental health practitioners and ultimately improve public health and safety.
One of the key areas includes exploring technological innovations like an electronic municipal health information management system.
‘Our Environmental Health Department staff are responsible for assessing, correcting, controlling and preventing those aspects in the environment that are detrimental to public health. They’re doing a very good job in spite of very real limitations, but there is always room for improvement. The management and sharing of information is crucial to any organisation. The City recently became the first in Africa to roll out Project EPIC, which is an integrated emergency and incident management system. I can already see the potential synergy and am excited about how we could possibly include health services in this,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.
Earlier this week, environmental health practitioners from municipalities around the country gathered in Cape Town for the Institute’s annual conference to showcase and share best practice. The City of Cape Town’s contribution included a presentation on its school deworming programme in the Northern Health Sub-district which was named the Best National Community Project during the World Environmental Health Conference in September 2016.
This week’s conference also deliberated on a number of challenges facing the profession, including the ratio of environmental health practitioners relative to the size of the population, the slow devolution of municipal health services from provincial health departments to municipalities, the placement of community services environmental health practitioners, and whether municipalities are prioritising equitable share from the National Treasury in addressing the limited resources for environmental health services.
Some of the draft resolutions were as follows:
· The South African Local Government Association, South African Institute of Environmental Health, and tertiary institutions to assist municipalities on developing evidence-based indicators to improve health outcomes
· Improving the linkage between environmental health services and political decision-makers to ensure effective budgeting and ensuring that environmental health is included in the Integrated Development Plans of municipalities
· The National Department of Health to sensitise and assist municipalities in the implementation of environmental health norms and standards
· Hosting a summit for academics to deal with environmental health issues e.g. community service placement, work-integrated learning, and curriculum development
‘Municipal health services are crucial yet woefully underfunded. We need to resolve the funding issue, but we also need to create greater public awareness about the work that our Environmental Health Department does to safeguard communities and how communities unfortunately add to the environmental health burden. Illegal dumping, for example, is a massive problem in Cape Town. While our Law Enforcement staff are doing good work in fining wrongdoers and impounding trucks used in the act of dumping, the City spends far too much money cleaning up after dumpers and the environmental health practitioners are overrun with attending to the health hazards associated with dumping,’ added Alderman Smith.
In the 2015/16 financial year, the City’s environmental health practitioners (EHPs) visited 2 595 registered preschools to monitor compliance with health legislation. During the same period, they conducted 21 599 visits to more than 300 informal settlements and presented 1 063 health and hygiene projects across Cape Town with the help of Expanded Public Works Programme workers. Other services provided by EHPs included the following:
· Investigated 422 notifiable conditions, 8 food poisoning episodes and 7 cases of pesticide poisoning
· Tested 3 383 samples of potable water for SANS 241 quality compliance
· Inspected 1 520 medical waste generators for compliance with standards
· Inspected 5 897 business premises for vector infestation
· Serviced 94 697 block-baiting stations for rodent control
· Inspected 11 043 formal food traders and 3 024 informal food traders to issue certificates of acceptability
· Collected 8 022 food samples to test for compliance with relevant microbiological and chemical composition standards
· Inspected 12 447 premises for compliance with tobacco legislation
· Checked 50 funeral undertaker premises for compliance with regulations
A City senior environmental health practitioner, Renay McPherson-Smith, was acknowledged at the Institute of Environmental Health Conference when she received the Outstanding Performance Award for her ‘outstanding contribution through exceptional diligence, personal sacrifice and enthusiasm to serve communities and general services of the Institute of Environmental Health’. McPherson-Smith joined the City of Cape Town 10 years ago after beginning her career in the hospitality industry and having obtained her tertiary qualification in 1997. She delivers services to communities in the City’s Eastern Health Sub-district and is based in Kuils River.
‘The City congratulates Renay on this great achievement and for flying the City’s flag at the awards ceremony. Her commitment and dedication is an inspiration to the administration and her peers and I have no doubt that the communities she serves will rest easy in the knowledge that someone of her calibre is in their corner.
‘We are proud of the fact that the City was able to host this conference and we also congratulate Dr Selva Mudaly on being elected the next president of the International Federation of Environmental Health. This is truly a feather in the cap of the discipline in South Africa. Environmental health is at the forefront of creating conditions which ensure that our residents are healthier and that they live beyond 70 and the City will intensify its development of our Environmental Health Department,’ said Alderman Smith.