Department of Environmental Health commemorates World Environmental Health Day

World Environmental Health Day

MUT and its partners; eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, Msunduzi Municipality, Alfred Nzo, and IFEH/SAIEH, among others; commemorated the World Environmental Health Day at the University on 3 September 2019. This year’s World Environmental Health Day, which was themed Climate change challenges, time for global Environmental Health to act in unison, was held as a build-up to the World Environmental Day.

Dr Thobile Poswa, Head of Department of Environmental Health at MUT, said that they wanted to create a platform wherein they could share information with their partners, and most importantly, with their students. “We wanted to create awareness on climate change and its effects upon our environment, but most importantly, on human health. Most diseases are as a result of the environment we live in. Humans have a big role in making the environment dangerous to human and animal health. We advocate for a change in lifestyle. For instance, we need to reduce carbon emissions. We can do that by using cars less, and living an active lifestyle,” said Dr Poswa.

Dr Poswa emphasised that they interacted with various stakeholders through intersectional collaborations to get the message across those that need it. This sentiment was echoed by Dr Selva Mudaly, President of the International Federation of Environmental Health, which represents 46 countries, and 60 000 members. Dr Mudaly, who was a guest speaker, made an emotional plea to MUT and guests at the event to promote environmental health wherever they were. Dr Mudaly praised the attitude of the Department of Health towards the profession.

Dr Mudaly highlighted the support from the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize. Dr Mudaly said Dr Mkhize’s leadership had given the Environmental Health professionals a chance to make input into the National Health Insurance (NHI). “More than 20% of the diseases that affect humans are as a result of the environment; that is why we, as Environmental Health practitioners, have to be offered a chance to influence the NHI,” said Dr Mudaly. Responding to whether the NHI would be sustainable, Dr Mudaly said government had to find a correct funding model to make the NHI successful and sustainable. Dr Mudaly said that looking after the environment was going to make it easy and cheaper to deal with diseases.

Dr Poswa, Dr Mudaly and Ana Bigara, a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Health, emphasised the importance of the involvement of students in all the platforms that discussed the way humans were dealing with the environment. Students had to be brought in for two reasons – students have a fair grasp of Environmental Health issues, and that they become a link between generations. Students are also the ones who could take the message to their communities. The centrality of the students was highlighted by their participation in the event. Students from all levels of study took part in poster and video competitions where they highlighted the damage caused by human action upon the environment, and what could be done to mitigate the problems.

In their messages of support, all the MUT partners sounded a dire warning. Pradeep Bhugwandeen, Deputy Director: Port Health Coastal Region in KwaZulu-Natal, said according to the United Nations Green Panel, the world has only 12 years to prevent extreme heat, drought, flood and poverty.

Phindi Mchunu-Vilakazi, an MUT graduate and   Environmental Health Manager at eThekwini Municipality, appealed to students to take charge and drive programmes that will push back the damage on the environment.