Public health officers to restore community visibility
I want to laud Lenox Wallace, chief public health inspector of St James, and his dedicated team for their firm and decisive act in closing down the two food handling entities in the parish for blatant breaches of the Public Health Act.
As an ex-public health inspector, I am often bewildered to see the wanton infringement of the public health regulations to the detriment of the health and well-being of the consuming public.
I am fully aware of the difficult circumstances under which the officers operate in modern times, given the low salary and general working conditions, resulting in gross understaffing with corresponding demotivation, the constant haemorrhaging of the few sacrificial lambs left to battle the waters. But I wish to encourage the officers to hold strain and be firmly committed to the noble task as the guardians of the nation’s health.
I therefore wish to outline the following strategies which will go a far way in synergising the efforts of the health department.
Public education must provide the citizenry with the knowledge to take appropriate action in facilitating public participation in identifying, preventing, and abating public nuisances. This begins with articulating the vast spectrum of the powers of the Public Health Act in identifying, preventing and abating public nuisances that becomes the responsibility of each individual. Accordingly, the Public Health Act defines a nuisance as “any act unwarranted by law which act or omission affects or is likely to affect prejudicially the public health”. It also deems any such breach by individuals, organisations private or public guilty of any such breach as having committed a crime enforceable by the courts by the imposition of a fine and/or a period of imprisonment. Therefore, all citizens must be encouraged to exercise their social right to report any public health infringement to the health department without any apprehension.
The public health officers must rise from their obscurity and flaunt their visibility in the community, as was the practice in my day. They must be seen carrying out routine inspections of food-handling establishments, such as restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours, supermarkets, educational instructions, public markets, community centres, public water supply facilities, and all the new bottled water suppliers, etc.
They must be vigilant in inspecting barbershops, salons, health spas, hotels and motels, as well as the itinerant roadside food vendors to ensure that all operators have a valid food handler’s permit, access to potable water supply, sanitary conveniences, sanitisation to prevent food poisoning and the transmission of communicable diseases from client to client and operator to client.
Ensure that all public abattoirs and fish-vending facilities are compliant and discourage the public from purchasing uncertified meat and fish.
Restore the routine inspection of abandoned premises with overgrown vegetation and dilapidated buildings serving as harbourage for disease vectors such as rats, flies, mosquitoes, and invoke the law which makes provisions for each parish council to enter any such premises as often as needs be to have the premises bushed and lodge a caveat against any such premises until the indebtedness is made good.
To achieve the above, the public health association which represents public health officers must make an exigent demand on the Government to provide a public marked vehicle to each parish identifying and promoting the presence of a team of health officers visible to the public. It’s also a brilliant idea to provide them with vests as an additional means of public identification. Alternately, each inspector could be provided with removable car stickers for public identity. This will engender public confidence and support for the partially invisible but ardently committed public health officers who must be fully integrated into the community they serve.