Developing a Public Health Legislation for 21st century
As Sierra Leone is about to celebrate its 55 years Public Health Act Birthday for a structural reform, the birth of 225 Public Health Aids formerly Sanitary Inspectors have been given upgraded training to the responsive modern trends of public health planning and administration.
Since the ratification of the 1960 Public Health Act to date, the Pre-Independence and Post-Independence House to House Inspection, Food Inspection, Compound and frontage, drainages, including hotels, residential and public toilets, local restaurants “Cookery baffer” have not been practicably implemented due to low fines and other challenges.
Among the key issues and challenges identified by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation are the existing health statutes and regulations that are outdated, weak administration of the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department and poor coordination and arrangements at all levels.
The actions and targets proposed by the Ministry in its National Health Sector Strategic Plan (NHSP) 2010-2015 aims at reviewing the legal framework and provide the necessary capacities for implementation of the targets set in the plan. In renewing the existing legislative framework the Ministry reiterates the government’s commitments to primary healthcare approach, to health delivery with emphasis on prevention and primary care services as cost effective strategies.
This calls for strengthening and equipping the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department to promote and enforce good environmental health practices in the country. This is important in making the department a viable institution. And this is why it has been elevated from a Department to a Directorate within the Ministry.
In undertaking the review of the existing statutes and regulations, notably the Public Health Act, the general public might be tempted to ask these questions: What the public health system is designed to do? What shall be the focus of the public health system in the 21st century? and the underlying principles of a Public Health Legislation in respect of collaboration and prevention? The answers to these and many more could best be seen in the essence of the new
Public Health Act to promote and protect public health and reduce the incidence of preventable illness, injury and disability in Sierra Leone. The Bill is a law for the 21st century to assist councils and communities, prepare for and meet the health challenges of the country and have a better chance to build strong healthier communities. Noting also that public health planning under the Bill is based on a very strong commitment to partnership and collaboration between central government, the provincial and local councils. Why? The Local Councils have devolved functions and the Government as part of the general reform of the sector promulgated the Hospital Board Act of 2003 and the Local Government Act of 2004. These laws seek to devolve responsibility of specified central government functions to the local level to maximize efficiency.
Public Health Law
Public health in general is not about individual health care, importantly, it is about all of us- preventing the causes that make us sick and building up those things that protect us and improve our health and well-being. It is how structures are put in place to protect ourselves and how we use the structures to rise to challenges and risks that threaten our communities, whether natural disasters, infectious diseases, chronic ill health, or social or economic shocks that strain the core fabric of the society we live. Achieving this is based on personal choices and individual lifestyles or behaviours. It is mostly has to do with how good our access is to basic things in life such as clean water, clean air, good housing, good and safe food, safe disposal of waste as well as effective prevention and control of serious communicable and non-communicable diseases.
The review of the 1960 Act is a life-saving intervention, and the law is not a threat but solutions to the things that challenge our health and well-being. So let’s start the practice of keeping our environment clean and safe from filth, avoid eating uncovered food, wash your vegetable and fruits before eating, and make clean your toilet, drainages. Dispose your rubbish or garbage appropriately and drink safe, clean water.
By Jonathan Abass Kamara
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