Mkhize: Covid-19 impact lays bare local govt shortcomings, lack of basic services in communities

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize
  • South Africa has a high level of environmental burden of disease, with 16% of all deaths related to the state of the environment.
  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize revealed this during a virtual conference commemorating World Environmental Health Day.
  • Experience has shown that outbreaks bring forth the importance of environmental health.

South Africa has a high level of environmental burden of disease, with 16% of all deaths estimated to be related to the state of the environment, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday, referring to a 2006 World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

"It is actually all linked, a healthier environment gives you a healthier population and everything has to be done to make sure that we keep improving the quality of our natural environment.

"The science of environmental health is based on the premise that the prevention is better than [the] cure as this profession is concerned, with the key environmental factors that are at the heart of the public health dynamics," he explained during a webinar commemorating World Environmental Health Day.

During the virtual conference, Mkhize noted that the "fight for health for all will be won or lost in the public health space, therefore it is critical that as we pause to shine a spotlight on environmental health".

He added: 

The international federation for environmental health recognises the continuing threats of environmental risk factors to human health and the urgent need to adopt a preventative approach in improving the quality of the natural environment and reducing environmental disease impact on the earth, on the health of the population.

READ: OPINION | Environmental surveillance needed for clearer picture in public health interventions

The premise that "prevention is better than cure" became the most evident in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic response, where the environmental health practitioners became even more critical, he said.

The health department was currently concerned with environmental interventions in the context of Covid-19 prevention and response measures.

"[The] impact of Covid-19 was the way it exposed the [paucity] of the basic services to our communities and the challenges of underdevelopment such as shortage of water, poor sanitation, overcrowded informal settlements, which laid bare all the weaknesses of our local government, environmental and other services," Mkhize explained.

According to Mkhize, experience showed that outbreaks – whether it be Covid-19, cholera or malaria – brought forth the importance of environmental health and the need for a co-operative response approach from government and society.

"This creates a natural partnership of the Department of Health and the local government sphere in the services that we will have to render – waste management, clean water, sanitation, food hygiene and many more areas.

"A clean environment, a healthy population and a vibrant economy are all synonymous and there is not a question of choosing one from the other; each one leads to the other and therefore we need to keep that balance in place," Mkhize said.

As of Monday, 28 September, South Africa's official Covid-19 numbers showed a total of 671 669 cumulative detected cases, 604 478 recoveries and 16 586 deaths.

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