Implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: strengthening environmental health systems
Adopted in 2015 by all United Nations (UN) Member States, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.
At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call to action for developed and developing countries to work together in a global partnership.
Even from a quick glance, it is clear to see that environmental health is, or at least should be, making a direct contribution to several of these goals. The International Federation of Environmental Health (IFEH) suggests that environmental health “fits into 7 SDGs, 19 targets and 30 indicators of the SDGs.”
No one could, in my view, argue that any of these goals are not highly desirable, if not essential, for a truly sustainable world. And if environmental health makes such a significant contribution, then what are the barriers and constraints preventing us maximising our professional contribution? In the UK I think that can be fairly concisely summed up by three short but very significant statements:
- Lack of capacity – i.e. not enough qualified professionals
- Lack of investment – by both central and local governments
- Lack of understanding – key decision makers still do not fully understand Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) contribution to health protection and health improvement
At CIEH, the Executive Management Team (EMT) has now agreed that addressing what we are increasingly referring to as “the workforce crisis” has to be our top priority for the foreseeable future.
As a profession, we need to revisit the discussions that were had, and arguments made directly with government during the height of the pandemic. It is extremely disappointing that recommendations that were agreed in a report produced by a working group set up, by the government, to look at the future of regulatory services remain unimplemented. We must, in my view, go back to those and actively campaign again on them.
We also need to ensure that we have as accurate and up-to-date information on the current environmental health workforce as possible. We will be building on the workforce survey that was completed last year for England and Wales and completing a similar exercise with colleagues in Northern Ireland.
We need to look at ways to more actively promote careers in environmental health and build a better understanding of the work that EHPs carry out with decision makers, elected representatives and the general public.
There also needs to be a consideration of how we can expand routes into the profession and at the same time try to ensure that existing pathways, in particular our accredited universities, remain viable.
We need to continue our engagement, along with the Association of Chief Environmental Health Officers (ACEHO), with the newly formed UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in the co-design of a Health Protection System for the future in which EHPs are recognised as a key part of the public health workforce.
And you can help too. It is critically important that we are able to bring the arguments that we make regarding the contribution of EHPs are brought to life with practical examples such as case studies. If you are willing to work with us to develop such cases studies through helping us to write up your work in a way that demonstrates how your efforts have either improved or protected people’s lives, then please get in touch with me.
I’ve often heard environmental health described as an unseen service. We need to be much louder and prouder about the work we do. But we need your help to do so.