Dear distinguished colleague,
The days of “hazard-centred” management of the environment are long expired! It is now accepted that environmental hazards are inevitable price for development; and a narrow-minded fixation on the outright elimination of a select “notorious” few could be futile and even unhelpful. Pragmatic sound management of the environment now tends to be “risk-centred” and it entails identifying and curtailing exposures to hazards (factoring in various options to mitigate the impacts), with “Sustainable Development” as the ultimate end-point in view.
Sustainable development is that which meets today’s needs without jeopardizing the chances of future generations to also meet theirs. It involves a holistic balancing of the three inter-woven dimensions of Economy, Socials, and Environment-Health. The bottom-line being that benefits associated with any “development” must demonstrably outweigh the price being paid for it by the general population.
However for whatever reason(s), this more realistic approach to environmental management is yet to gain traction in our part of the world. The result is that environmental policies and practices cherry-picked from other climes are uncritically imposed on the polity here, in what has been referred to as “cut and paste” fashion. Whereas the various parameters and values utilized in the underlying risk assessments for those policies could be at considerable variance with our own local realities! Such policies and practices, fueled by hypes in the popular media, are the root causes of much of the confusion currently bedeviling public health in Nigeria. A ready example is the situation where we hesitate, on the one hand, to exploit our vast coal resources direly needed to address our energy challenges, based on considerations of mercury release; but on the other hand we are content to remain the world’s dumping ground for thimerosal-containing vaccines, requiring us to pump vast quantities of the same mercury directly into the veins of our children and other vulnerable populations.
It is time this situation was scrutinized, addressed, and redressed! At the 7th National Conference on Environment and Health, efforts will be made to push the concept of Environmental Health Risk Assessment (EHRA) to the front burner in our quest to profitably and sustainably exploit our environment for all-round development and the common good. A rich array of eminent speakers, from both the academia and industry/government, have confirmed their availability to lead various aspects of the discussion at the Conference. We cordially invite you to be part of what promises to be a stimulating and highly-impactful national discourse.
The Nigerian disdain for data unfortunately extends to the public health sector. At great intolerable costs! Even where systems for amassing vital health information exist, often they operate only half-heartedly. Parameters are hardly harmonized across several stakeholder institutions; quality assurance mechanism on the data stored are often absent; and it is only in few situations that the records are electronically available for remote access and interrogation. On the other hand, the end users who should be interested in these data as input in their own decision-making processes seem unperturbed. Often, statistics spurted out by private foreign organizations are uncritically cited and utilized for taking high-level decisions with far-reaching consequences on public health in the country. Worst of all, even well-documented and generally available reliable statistics on environmental and social determinants of public health are just plain ignored by responsible authorities in the face of other interests such as politics and economics.