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President Muhammadu Buhari

Health Experts Task FG on Budget

By Laide Akinboade

Experts in the health sector have urged the Federal Government to increase budgetary allocation to Water, Sanitation and hygiene, in order to address the environmental hygiene of the country.

The stakeholders opined that environmental hygiene which is related to open defecation is affecting the country’s health management.

According to United Nations Children Education Funds (UNICEF), over 46 million

People practice open defecation (OD) and the Federal Government would need to invest $8billion annually to be able to achieve its OD free goal by 2030 and  88 percent of diarrhoea cases all over the world are due to sanitation.

Zaid Jurji, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), United Nations Children Education Funds (UNICEF), said water sanitation is human rights as it is recognised all over the world.

He lamented the small budgetary allocation given to sanitation by the Federal government (1.6%), which according to him, would make it impossible for the nation to address its OD challenges.

According to the UNICEF boss, “We are asking that it becomes a more priority area and more resources should be allocated by the federal government and from the community level.

“Nigeria is doing the right thing but not on the required scale. Nigeria must make sure it becomes their priority and being recognised, without making available the health required resources, without making sure it gets to the communities and functional in that direction, then we won’t be able to meet the goal.

“It is a big problem and it must be dealt with on a big scale, but the government of Nigeria decided to eradicate polio and were successful and as I said. Nigeria is a resourceful country that is capable of eradicating OD”.

On UNICEF and European Union’s roles, he said, investment of $1 billion on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) would bring back 25 percent productivity because WASH impacts directly on the health of everyone.

“It is a very straight forward impact, it has impact on the productivity of the mother, for the mother to be responsible on the house, taking care of the kids and sometimes instead of children going to school, they go to queue for water and these are lost time.

In the 1970s, Nigeria had effective Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) environmental officers, (Yoruba call them wolewole), their work was to ensure clean environment, educate and create awareness among the populace. But these days you only see a handful of them around. They are in white and brown uniform.

Registrar, EHORECON, Dominic Abonyi, who spoke on the telephone, to DAILY ASSET, said the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommendation stipulates that a nation must have a ratio of 1:8,000 (1 sanitation health officer to 8,000 people), and with Nigeria above 180 million, in ratio 1:8,000, that means Nigeria would need about 23,000 environmental health officers, to police the 774 Local Governments.

But right now, Nigeria has 9,593, registered Environmental Health Officers, 2,814, Environmental Health Technologists and 1,336 Environmental Health Assistants and these are far cry from the number of Environmental officers the nation need, he said.

According to him, in 2017, the Federal Government’s budgetary allocation to EHORECON was N587, 349,223, while in 2018 budgetary proposal was N624, 707,486.

On what the Federal Government is doing, the EHORECON boss said what they do mostly is advocacy and enlightenment.

“We even encourage  private and public offices to open their doors to people that want to use rest rooms as it is obtained in developed nations. We also encourage people in the rural areas to build restrooms and dispose wastes properly.

“Our health officers also carry out inventory on the rate of open defecation in the country and to know the number of people who are affected,” he said.

The Public Relations Officer, Kehinde Openipo, lamented the number of health officers Nigeria has, saying it is not commensurate to Nigeria’s 180 million population.

“What we normally do is to arrange public private partnership with communities or local government, in order to police the area well.

“You cannot say our health officers are not visible, the population of the country, compared to the number of health officers, is very minimal. And the federal government is not really employing environmental workers in the States.

“They are working day and night, like in Kubwa, we have a sort of OD private public partnership with the Area Council to be able to police the area very well. They still do house to house inspection but because of the small number of environmental officers, they are in every local government in this country but because their numbers are not huge, they are not able to work effectively, imagine putting just 2 or 3 environmental officers in a large area., and you know the number of people they are going to police. That is why we go on radio to inform the people on how to maintain hygiene.”

Drissa Yeo, WASH specialist, UNICEF, says that Nigeria might not be able to achieve its goal of getting rid of OD by 2025, considering the pace at which it is going, with only three local governments out of 774, has been declared OD free, and only 8 years left for 2025.

He said one gram of feaces contains about ten million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasites and one thousand eggs.

Yeo, therefore, urged all the 36 states governments and Federal Capital Territory, to create a roadmap based on what the central government is doing on OD free and follow it up.

He said, “And if each state manages to put funding on the table to address the sanitation challenges, the country would be able to move forward.”

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