Open defecation campaign: Environmental Heath Officers should be in charge-Chief Pulemote

CHIEF JUDE PULEMOTE, is the Director, Primary Healthcare and also serving as the Secretary to the Nembe Local Government Authority, Bayelsa State. He is a professional Environmental Health Officer.In this interview with our Health Editor, HASSAN ZAGGI, Chief Pulemote explained what steps the federal government needs to take to ensure that the Executive Order 009 issued by President Muhammadu Buhari titled: ‘The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025, is achieved.

Briefly, what is open defecation all about?

Open defecation is the act is shitting in the open. Others even describe it as outdoor defecation. No matter what it is called, we are not looking at the concept but the consequences of open defecation.

It has a lot of impact in our health, social life and our economy as well.

Once we have been able to eliminate open defecation, we will say we have attained Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. That is what we are driving at going by the Executive Order 009 given by the president of Nigeria.

Seeing there are no infrastructure on ground, is attaining the order to end open defecation by 2025 feasible?

It quite appalling for one to say that within five years we will end open defecation in Nigeria, but there is nothing wrong in planning.

For me, I see it as a plan but honestly, there must be a road map, a concrete plan otherwise, it will be very difficult. Otherwise, for us to achieve this, we must not just have latrines, but we must have the desired latrines both in quantity/number in design and they must be environment friendly.

You might have the latrines but if they are not environment friendly, we will still end up continuing with open defecation. That is why of recent we are preaching eco- friendly latrines which serve some of the options we have been using.

What will be the way out for us to prevent recycling open defecation in the country since we don’t have central sewage system?

This is very simple. Nigeria as we all know is a blessed nation with enough man power and resources. Is it the technique, we have it, is it the resources, we have it. Is it space, we have it. If you want to construct a sewage system from Abuja to Rivers state, it is possible if there is the will and if we choose to do the right thing.

Why are we not having good sewage system in Nigeria? Among other things, we all know that the will had not been there. Since the president is a man of his words, since he has declared, he will stand by his promise.

The most important thing, using the right personnel. Most projects have failed in Nigeria and will continue to fail because we always politicize everything.

Look at where you need to use sanitarians, health officers, you will go and use engineers or accountants. No one can deliver what he does not have.

So, for us to succeed both in this ODF dream as well as proper waste management or attaining the SDG on water and sanitation in this country by 2025 going by the order of the president, we must use the right personnel.

We have health officers laying waste in their offices. Although we know that the number of environmental health officers is grossly inadequate in some areas because they have not employed for many years.

Especially, our senior brothers, the medical doctors and others who are privileged to be in positions of authority, when they notice that the government or international agency is funding a particular project, they always come with a claim that they are the team lead so the job should be given to them.

Most times they don’t deliver because it is not their field. That has been a major problem in Nigeria. So for us to succeed in ending open defecation, the President must maintain his word by putting the round peg in the round holes otherwise we will make mockery of ourselves.

In the late 70s and early 80s we do see environmental health workers going round villages to ensure that people are conscious of their health, we no more see them. What has happened?

We have environmental health workers in their numbers rooming about the streets without employment. The few ones in service are not being used.

Let us visit all the sanitation authority no matter the name, be waste management authority, the functions are the same. Look at the chairman of these groups you will see that he is a politician whose background is unconnected to environmental management or environmental health. That has been the challenge.

Go to Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Capacity Development (RUWASA), I am challenging everybody in this country, let them go and take the staff profile of the agency, you will discover that we have engineers on top, Hydrologies, admin officers manning and heading both sanitation and water supply agencies, sanitation authorities, ministry of environment. How can these agencies and ministries function well if the trained people are not placed to head the places.

In this open defecation campaign, what will be the role of states and local governments?

First and foremost, if this campaign must succeed, it must be domesticated. The primary functions of the local governments are spelt out in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it is also there in the local government scheme of services, local government standing order and other enabling documents which include infrastructure, primary healthcare, primary education and so on.

Therefore, let the presidency give the local governments that directive on one hand; two; if we must succeed, let them set up task force, committees to steer this process.

One; so that if one is building latrine from the design to the completion, it will be professionally monitored; two, after completion, we must make sure that it is being put into use as expected.

These things, it is only the environmental health officers that know and have them in their finger tips. But we are not involved.

We are urging the leadership of the country, that for once, let us do the right thing so we will succeed within the time line. Five years is time enough for us to end open defecation in Nigeria, but if we still play with it, I doubt it.

As an environmental health officer, if given the opportunity to lead the ODF campaign in Nigeria, where will you?

First and foremost, the globally accepted approach to community sanitation is community led total sanitation. Because I am a health officer and a professional with all expertise, I don’t mean we will achieve this campaign in isolation. We will bring in the relevant stakeholders. The number among them are community leaders and all segments of the community We have experimented it in some local government areas and it has worked.

So, if we have the opportunity, this is what we know best how to deliver, we will do it for our country.

There is no doubt the government and international partners will inject money into this campaign, do you foresee any subtle war in the health sector on who or which professional group should be in charge of the campaign?

This war has been from time immemorial, let us not pretend about it. Anytime health programmes are floated and they capture both national and international attention or state attention, different professionals will begin to scramble to be in charge of the programme not minding weather it is their core professional area or not.

It is shameful that up till now Nigeria is still battling with polio eradication. Polio eradication campaign started in 1998 till now we are still battling with it. Do you know why? People who are trained as clinicians that should be handling curative healthcare services say no, polio eradication there is money, GAVI fund is coming, they must be there. They clamour to be there not just as a team member but to head it. The same thing is apparently eminent in this campaign that is coming. You will see it. Time is the best revealer of hidden things.

When it will come up you will see professors, doctors in this and that will come in. believe you me, sanitation is the exclusive area of expertise for the environmental health officers initially called sanitary inspectors or public health superintendents with support from one or two quarters.

Advice for government?

My advice for the government is let them do the right thing. Use the man power that they ought to use to achieve result.

Let the government use the workers they know are professionally trained in this area.

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