The main stay of environmental health is proper and adequate environmental sanitation complemented with basic environmental education. Environmental sanitation includes the control of excreta disposal, waste management, community, water supply, housing condition, food supplies and handling, atmospheric conditions and safety of the learning environment.
Environmental sanitation therefore involves all steps adopted to protect and promote public health through adequate waste management, provision of drinking water supply in sufficient quality and quantity, sound food hygiene and safety handling. Environmental Health is the control of the aforementioned factors in man’s physical environment that exercise or may exercise a deleterious effect on his environment, health or survival.
Environmental Health is also that facet of public health which is the science and art of preventing diseases, prolonging life and promoting health and quality of life through organized efforts of the communities. It is, however, sad that the physical environment in many schools in Nigeria presents a pathetic state, with dilapidated buildings in unkempt environment overgrown with weeds.
Many schools in Nigeria, including tertiary institutions, lack potable water, functional toilets and adequate waste disposal mechanisms. The schools often are overcrowded without proper ventilation and sited in noise polluted areas.
Many food vendors who provide meals and snacks for school children are unregistered and without proper medical certificate of standardization and fitness, and the meals, snacks and drinks such as yogurt, kunu, sobo and lolly pop that they provide are also unwholesome. Many boarding schools provide favourable opportunity for infestation such as bedbugs, rats and cockroach.
These environmental factors are responsible for a good proportion of diseases affecting school children notably respiratory infections, malaria, typhoid, cholera and diarrhea, and these adversely affect their learning abilities and performances in academic exercises. In the case of excreta disposal; it is a pre requisite to protecting health. In the absence of sanitary toilet facilities, a number of major diseases are transmitted through faucal pollution of the school environment. Many schools in Nigeria have no access to proper sanitation facilities. Those that have are in dilapidated conditions, which make it difficult for children to use.
Most federal government schools are provided with water carriage system toilets which depend on regular water supply to function effectively but the inadequacy of water supply results in an ugly situation or indiscriminate defecation by students in corners of classrooms thereby attracting flies and odour nuisance. Therefore, it is imperative that adequate and functional toilets for boys and girls are provided in schools. The water carriage system can be complemented with the ventilated improved pit latrines which do not use water, no fly infestation and no odour.
Food sanitation is another area of complete neglect and zero observance in our schools.
Food is one of the most basic needs for human existence. Unfortunately, food often presents risk to health through microbial and other contamination as a result of several human factors, among which are poor food hygiene and safety practices. The rapid of food handlers in many schools has greatly contributed to the increased incidence of food borne diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, diarrhea as well as parasitic infections.
The pathogens which cause food borne infections and poisoning usually thrive under certain man-made conditions, some of which are improper handling of food, inappropriate storage of leftover food, and insufficient reheating of previously cooked food. Bad practice of food hygiene is a major source of infection among school children. Food meant for sale and consumption is flagrantly displayed in open containers, thereby being exposed to ever-present contamination by flies, dust and micro-organisms.
These food handlers are municipal food vendors at schools. They include road sellers, mobile food vendors on bicycles and wheelbarrows, bacteria and hawkers. Sorrowfully too, these foods are prepared in insanitary conditions before being brought for sale in the schools.
So also is water. Water is a major component in the structure of human environment. It supports and preserves life but also damages and destroys life when it is consumed in a contaminated state. When water supply in schools is endangered, it may transmit diseases, and lack of adequate water supply can prevent children from observing basic hygienic behavior to protect their health.
In the same vein, studies show that exposure to air pollutants and chemicals trigger asthma, a principal cause of school absenteeism. It puts children at risk of diminished intelligence, school failure, delinquency and diminished achievement. Our school environment is also bombarded with noise pollution. Noise pollution is an unwanted and unpleasant sound generated from different sources such as motor parks, markets, overhead planes, industries, hawkers etc. Continuous exposure to excessive noise has been proven by experimental analysis to be detrimental to health of the school children which eventually leads to poor cognitive performance, noise annoyance and impaired well-being and motivation.
Our school premises are also over-grown with weeds and provide harborages to dangerous reptiles and other pests; snake bites have been documented in many schools in Nigeria.
It is at this point that the effort of Akwa Ibom State government through the Ministry of Environment should be commended for its introduction of monthly environmental sanitation exercise, and the continuous monitoring and physically partaking in the exercise by the Commissioner of Environment, Dr. Iniobong Ene Essien.
To this end, the state and local governments in Nigeria should implement the federal government developed School Sanitation Guideline by conducting school inspection, registering school meal vendors, training and retaining Environmental Health Officers. The head teachers should also implement the School Sanitation Guideline at the school level by ensuring that all food handlers undergo the mandatory food handlers test; ensuring the improvement of environment sanitation standards; introducing Environmental Health and Sanitation committee and ensuring that the entire school environment is neatly kept. The students on their part, should form Environmental Health and Sanitation Club; observe sound environmental and health habit and stop littering.
Media should be on the vanguard of creating awareness on the need for environmental sanitation paradigm and its effect on human health especially among school children. Every Nigerian should see the improvement of our environment as a collective responsibility. Therefore, let us all join hands together towards sound and effective environmental sanitation for the promotion of conducive school environment for effective learning by our children.