Don Tasks Govt On Emergency Preparedness

A university don, Prof Steve Abah has charged government at all levels to step up emergency preparedness efforts to mitigate the impact of environmental disasters in Nigeria.

He made the call in an exclusive interview with Safety Record Newspaper on Thursday, November 9 at the 2017 Conference/Annual General Meeting of the Society of Occupational and Environmental Health Physicians of Nigeria (SOEHPON) which held in Lagos.

The environmental and public health consultant said that the effect of climate change has made some environmental challenges inevitable, stating that their impact could however be effectively mitigated with emergency preparedness.

He said, “The world is becoming a global village. The challenges are not only in Nigeria. Climate change is real and it is beginning to produce changes.

“For instance, we are having droughts, flooding and all that going on. So all that we need to do is to mitigate, which means that we need to do some adaptations.

“For instance, we need to ensure that we keep our drainages open and free, so that when there’s heavy rains, we don’t have flooding.

“We need to do step up our emergency preparedness, knowing that some of these events are not things that we can prevent; some we cannot even predict accurately.

“So we need to prepare in anticipation.”

Prof Abah, a former lecturer at the West African Postgraduate College of Physicians, also decried low funding of the health sector in the country.

“Funding of the health sector generally is low. There are a number of gaps that need to be filled to provide comprehensive health for all.

“We are hoping that with the implementation of the health bill, some of these gaps will be filled,” he said.

In the same vein, the don noted that the SOEHPON Conference 2017 themed “Occupational Health For All” signified the body’s resolve to better safeguard workers through necessary intervention in policy formulation.

“SOEHPON Conference this year is beautiful, wonderful and the professionals have raised the stake. And as you can see for yourself, the quality of presentations and discussions is high, and I think occupational and environmental health physicians in Nigeria have come to the realisation that we need to impact policy more than never before to protect and safeguard the human workers,” he stated.

The Local Organising Committee (LOC) Chairman, SOEHPON Conference/AGM 2017, Dr Chijioke Onyechukwa revealed that the body was worried about the plight of workers in the informal sector which constitute a huge chunk of the working population in the country.

He added that it had become expedient to create guidelines on occupational health that are cost-effective and culture-appropriate for the sector.

“Most of our workers in Nigeria are in the informal sector. Like 60 percent of them are vocational workers.

“Most of the guys (at the conference) work in companies, and even if they have a doctor come to them, you still won’t be looking after more than a million Nigerians.

“The bulk of our people are in the SMEs and we should come out with guidelines and standards that are cost effective and culture appropriate.

“I am not going to borrow something from the UK and China, just because it is used there.”

Furthermore, Dr Onyechukwa lamented the non-enforcement of the few laws on occupational health in Nigeria, calling on the government to step up its game to protect workers in all sectors.

The LOC Chairman, who spoke on the role of government in occupational health noted, “Government’s role in occupational health is in promulgating laws and enforcing those laws.

“I tell everybody (that) we have some laws; even the few laws we have are not being enforced.

“So it is not when we have the best laws – it is how we enforce and monitor it.

“There is the Occupational Safety and Health Bill before the National Assembly.

“For me, that does not improve occupational health. It is the enforcement of it that improves occupational health.

“The reason for which Europe and America have got to where they are today is not because the employers were nice or wanted to obey the law. No.

“There knew that if they ran afoul of the law, they would be punished. In Nigeria, the chance of that happening is slim, very slim…

“I don’t call it Nigerian factor; I just call it selfishness.”

The Assistant National Secretary, SOEHPON, Dr Chinonye Nwankwo stated that the 2017 conference was unique because of the diversity of participation and range of topics covered.

She said, “This is the first time in our SOEHPON Conference that we are having a professor of occupational medicine with specialty in the environment participating because SOEHPON involves both occupational and environmental physicians.

“There is a diversity of participation. You’ll find out that Occupational Health For All also covers the military and para-military, and we are quite privileged to, for the first time, have participants from that sector, which are the road safety, participating.

“We have people from the UK and US and there is a cross-fertilisation of ideas that can move this country forward.

“This is one of the best conferences we have had.”