By Ogbonnaya Akoma, JP
Reliable sources have indicated that through effective control of the pernicious matters and harmful substances that exercise or may exercise deleterious effects on man’s physical environment, more than forty-five per cent of all environment-borne and communicable diseases that occur in our midst will be controlled and contained, hence health authorities all over the world have continued to emphasise the need for humans occupying any particular environment to do all that is necessarily required of them to ensure that such physical environments are kept clean and tidy always in the overall interest of their health and well-being and those other occupiers of such environments.
This is because, in public health circles, one man’s deeds, actions or inactions are capable of promoting his health and that of other people around him and vice versa, hence in public health sub-sector there is a popular maxim that emphasises that ‘The health of one man is the health of all.’ So, ab initio, there has always been the need to ensure that no one person on earth is allowed to bring about what causes illness or may pose danger to the health of others, particularly his neighbours, in any way or through any means, hence governments all over the world have always frowned at a situation when some members of their publics engage in the acts that are capable of endangering public health therein.
This act of governmental control has brought about the deployment of certain category of trained public health personnel to move from one house to the other to detect environmental nuisances towards ensuring that man’s physical environment is generally kept clean and devoid of degradation or pollution of any kind at any time.
It was in this regard that environmental health services had been introduced in Nigeria, including sanitation, through the coming of the then sanitary inspectors, first in Lagos and, later, in all other parts of the country, particularly in the three regions that went ahead to enshrine in their statute books the need to clean the physical environment of Nigeria for optimum health-living of the people in the country when Nigeria became a republic in 1963.
One of such laws was the famous Public Health Law, contained in chapter 103, in Volume Six of the Laws of Eastern Nigeria of 1963. In that law, the nuisances that affected public health generally were identified and elucidated, and were required to be abated by the sanitary inspectors who are today called environmental health officers globally.
In the beginning, and until recently, the sanitary inspectors were very effective in the detection of the nuisances in our midst as they visited all premises that were occupied by human beings with a view to carrying out thorough inspection of such premises towards detecting nuisances therein. They further went ahead to prosecute the authors of detected nuisances in the law courts, and most of who were convicted, a process that served as deterrent to others who subsequently did all they could to ensure they escaped the wrath of the law through such prosecutions by the sanitary inspectors in Nigeria then.
The result was that the towns and villages in the three regions in Nigeria then were clean all the year round to the health benefits of the members of public then. In fact, at a stage, Nigeria ranked among the cleanest countries among the developing nations in the world then.
All other aspects of public health requirements were also enforced among the people then and they included concerns bothering on food hygiene, overcrowding, mosquito and vector control, meat hygiene, communicable diseases control, housing and building control measures, disposal of the dead, principles of lighting and ventilation; control of noise nuisance, open and promiscuous defecation, pollution and contamination of water sources, epidemiology, public health statistics, among many others.
However, not long after that period of developmental nicety, things started to fall apart in the area of environmental cleanliness and other aspects until it reached the abysmal stage we find ourselves in this regard today. One of the reasons for this steady decline borders on the fact that environmental health services have continued to receive unwarranted and unnecessary politicisation at the state and local government levels in political patronage in many states and local governments in the country.
Instead of allowing and using the services of the professionals specifically trained in the art and science of environmental health management, especially sanitation, to prosecute these functions, all manner of quacks are used in this regard today.
The result is that Nigerian cities have continued to smell year round as a result of the offensive effluvia from the refuse that accumulate in these towns and which serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, general vermin, insects, vectors and lower animals such as rats of various kinds, snakes, cockroaches, all of which are capable of affecting public health in one way or the other.
It is because of the continued politicisation of environmental health services in general and sanitation in particular that Nigeria now has less than four thousand environmental health officers that are expected to serve the environmental health needs of the more than two hundred million population, according to statistical figures recently released by the registry department of the Environmental Health Officers’ Registration Council of Nigeria, EHORECON.
This is, without a doubt, precariously dangerous with regard to public health activities in Nigeria and should be remedied immediately in the health interest of the people.
Without a doubt, checking the dearth of public health officers in the country, including the environmental health personnel that are expected to visit and carry out sanitary inspection of every household in Nigeria in their onerous duty of detecting and abating nuisances that affect public health, is surely one of the most feasible and best ways to improve environmental health services throughout the country and, by extension, add value to public health in our midst. South-East states should lead in this sphere.
Really, nothing can be better than this, and the right time to start action is now in order not to continue to endanger public health through the use of quacks in the prosecution of public health activities in the country. This is in keeping with the indisputable fact that people can only give what they have.