Tanzania experience repeated diseases outbreak because it ‘neglects’ Environmental Health Officers

IN Tanzania diseases such as cholera, malaria, typhoid and diarrhoea diseases are not so strange in our daily lives and recently, Dengue fever added onto the list of these killer and devastating diseases.

While many Tanzanians struggle with all kinds of chemicals, medicines and other means to treat or prevent these diseases. The responsible ministry seems to be in confusion and probably not sure of what to do to completely control them.

Surprisingly, people in Tanzania continue falling sick, while in other countries they enjoy good health and out of threat of such infections. One wonders why the Ministry of Health Officers are not consulting their fellows, where malaria, cholera, dengue fever, typhoid and diarrhoea diseases remain in medical books, but not in human bodies.

But also, currently Tanzania has more than a dozen Science Universities and Medical Schools, where highly learned professionals in health and biological sciences spend their ample time, but not consulted.

The list also includes many public health specialists, who are self-employed or working in nongovernmental organizations, and can provide field experiences, when contacted.

Since the time of Baba wa Taifa, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, diseases have been listed together with ignorance and poverty as the three number one enemies of Tanzanians’ development, and they must be collectively fought.

During President Nyerere’s time in office, there were a limited number of health and aligned sciences in the country and despite their shortages (qualified individuals), they tried their level best.

Thereafter, what followed was lack of leadership capacity to mobile these experts and tasks them to eradicate these diseases in a sustainable way.

Given the devastating ill health experienced from malaria, dengue fever, typhoid and diarrhoea diseases, coupled with the loss of their loved ones, Health Experts are readily available to provide their expertise to support to the government freely if they would be considered and taken seriously.

The impact of these diseases has been felt by the both rich and poor families in communities.

The recent dengue outbreak sent a serious message to the responsible ministry after senior medical personnel, engineers, lawyers and government officers suffered from it or their relatives succumbing to it to the extent that some even losing their lives.

Despite this strong message the respective ministry has not done much to the expectation of many, given the size of the dengue fever outbreak.

The task-force formulated by the Minister for Health to advice the ministry officials on strategies to take was received positively by the affected public as like another political statements.

However, that ignited a popular clip including some Christian preachers, who without regrets condemned the ministry for capitalizing on the dengue fever outbreak for personal benefits.

Such suspicious cry triggered public frustrations following suffering they were going through and by the leaders, who seemed not to care.

In deep diving into the problem of repeated epidemic of malaria, dengue fever, Typhoid fever and diarrhoea diseases, these are principally preventable diseases.

Actually, they keep on occurring because of lack of active Environmental Health Officers in the District Councils ‘pinning them down.’

The role of Environmental Health Officers is entirely neglected. Environmental Health Officers are responsible for investigating incidents, which affect public health such as waste management, pollution, accidents at work, toxic contamination, identification of pests and harmful insects in their breeding sites.

Environmental Health Officers spend most of their time away from office in the field in butcheries, market places; foodstuffs outlets, commercial premises manufacturers and industrial areas, and these are the people who know the real hygiene on the ground and gaps.

During their visits, they check on adherence to environmental set standards and are mandated to serve legal notices to offenders, and providing evidence in court.

Their regular inspections are important and provide officials in the hierarchy with the right data and picture on the ground, if the country once to keep off from seeing such repeated disease outbreaks.

There have been too much emphasis and reliance on disease surveillance system without investing on removing the favourable factors for their spread.

For instance, cholera epidemic in Dar es Salaam city and other urban centres is expected every year and the season is clearly known. One may have interest to ask, why is cholera outbreak not interrupted, therefore?

The answer to this is that the appropriate environmental health officers are never engaged by the respective ministries to lead the task of environmental sanitation.

Cholera erupts where people eat or drink fluids contaminated with cholera infected faeces, therefore, the control and elimination of cholera, should include proper handling of human excreta, and use of safe water for human use.

Similarly, Dengue fever slowly escaped the surveillance system and now is a huge health threat to the people.

However, dengue fever could have not strived if the environmental was not favourable for breeding Aedes mosquitoes.

Since the environmental health officers are ignored, the preventive measures advocated during outbreaks would keep on being becoming ridiculous and shameful.

Such ridiculous measures include wearing and covering clothes and drink with pawpaw leaves. The act of wearing cover clothes in a hot and humidity Coastal weather is impractical.

Others, are instructions like cutting and reducing bushes around homes. These approaches are also not useful in dealing with mosquito borne diseases.

The effective way is to kill mosquitoes, which carry malaria parasites and dengue fever virus. This is achieved by spraying insecticides and applying larvicides in the places where mosquitoes’ breed.

Equally, District Councils on their own have failed to implement tangible measures to control the epidemics.

Mostly epidemics disappear after the wet season dries up and make them forget that they are likely to occur again, yet the public have all the resources to invest in disease epidemic control.

Unfortunately, there isn’t appropriate forum to mobilize these abundant resource, hence District Council Medical department should employ and engage these Environmental Health Officers, and assign them Wards to work with the respective Councillors to mobilize people in the grassroots to chart down approaches to kill all mosquitoes in their residential areas.

  • The writer is Dr Boniphace Idindili, (MD, MPH,PhD), reachable via Email: idindili@yahoo.co.uk and +255718033851 / +255768 414 960

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