Enabling environmental health practitioners

The Environmental Health programme recently said goodbye to the last third year students for the course in its current format.

On the last day of their exams, as the programme came to a close, the staff threw the 35 students a small party.

In addition to the surprise party the students also received their Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) certificates. [The HPCSA is a statutory body which aims to protect the public by investigating unethical conduct by qualified practitioners and regulating the training of Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs), medical Doctors and other health professionals.]

Acting Head of Programme: Environmental Health Michael Agenbag said it made the day very special because the certificates would enable the students to register for community service.

“To illustrate the importance of these certificates and their implication for our students, our cohort of the 2015 Environmental Health students who are currently doing their BTech could not get placement for their compulsory Community Service this year at the Cape Winelands District Municipality because they did not have their HPCSA student registration certificates,” said Agenbag.

Community Service is not a requirement to graduate, but it is expected of EHPs to give back to the country. “The authorities determine where the biggest needs are, in particular in underserviced areas where the country struggles to retain health professionals,” explained Agenbag.

The current cohort of 1st and 2nd year Environmental Health students at CPUT has been studying towards a four year professional degree known as Bachelor of Environmental Health since the start of 2017.

“This degree will now become the minimum requirement for students and qualified Environmental Health Practitioners to register with HPCSA as EHPs to work within the scope of the profession,” explained Agenbag.

The new professional degree students would also have to register as student EHPs to do community service. Though the Professional Board for Environmental Health within the HPCSA has asked that students handle their own registration Agenbag says CPUT’s Environmental Health programme has decided to step in to help with administrative arrangements.

Written by Theresa Smith

Accessing safe drinking water

Are the right measures being put in place to ensure you have access to safe drinking water?

This is the question environmental health expert Mike Agenbag hopes to answer as he pursues his doctoral studies.

A lecturer in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Studies, Agenbag is set to explore domestic water governance and how it contributes to preventative public health outcomes in order to reduce the associated disease burden for South Africa.

With more than 20 years of industry experience, Agenbag’s research topic was inspired by a project he undertook back in 2006, whilst working as an environmental health manager at a rural municipality.

The project saw him conduct a survey in a specific region in South Africa in order to ascertain if the proper legislations were in place and if the right measures were being followed in the process of monitoring the quality of drinking water.

“I found that the legislation was in place, however fragmented, and implementation of the water quality monitoring was done in silos,” he says.

The study also found that the important role environmental health practitioners play in domestic water governance at municipal level was being overlooked, and therefore not integrated for appropriate public health prevention interventions by government.

Although the Department of Water Affairs is the custodian of water in South Africa, Agenbag says through legislation they have established water service authorities and water services providers for the physical implementation of water at municipal level.

Agenbag says the Department of Health is responsible for health, therefore the role of environmental health to monitor water quality to ensure the prevention of ill health at its origin.

Government has also introduced the Blue Drop System (BDS), as an incentive and monitoring scheme that encourages municipalities to improve the quality and availability of domestic water in the areas they are responsible for.

“However, the BDS focusses on water systems that does not cover all communities, in particular in rural communities that are significantly still exposed to unprotected water sources,” he says.

Agenbag says it is vital that municipal health services are aligned to the legislation that has been set by Water Affairs, to ensure the proper governance of domestic water.

“I hope that this study will lead to a legislative change and a model for integrating water quality management,” he says.