The Department of Occupational and Environmental Health (DOEH) has been in existence in various forms since 2003 (between 2003 – 2007, it was the “Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health), however, the entities that gave rise to the COEH date back to the early 1990’s. Recognising that both environmental health and occupational health were critical public health disciplines, three entities within the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Africa Centre for Indoor Air Quality (CIAQ) located within the Department of Physiology, and headed by Dr. Nceba Gqaleni, the Occupational Health Programme (OHP) of the Department of Community Health and the Industrial Health Unit (IHU), also located within the Department of Community Health and headed by Dr. Rajen Naidoo merged into the newly formed Centre in 2003. Because of the recognition of occupational medicine as a clinical speciality, and the productivity of the Centre, the University higher structures approved the establishment of a Department in 2007.
Since its launch in 2003, there have been several notable achievements of the Department in the fields of research and academic training. The Department has been extremely successful in generating significant research funding. This has included the US$200 000 for the Respiratory Health among Coalminers study, US$1m for the South Durban Health Study, from the eThekwini Municipality (2003), US$100000 from the South African Netherlands Partnership and Development (SANPAD) (2005). Funding has also been accessed through collaborative programmes with national and international partners from international funding agencies, such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US. The Health, Environment and Economic Development (HEED) in South Durban is a NIH project conducted jointly with the University of Michigan, while the US$100 000 pesticides related birth outcomes project is funded by the NIH, with partnership between ourselves, the University of Cape Town and Boston University. Over US$100 000 have been received from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Research Foundation (NRF) (both statutory research and funding agencies) for studies on indoor air quality and its impact on human health. The COEH was also a partner in the Medical Research Council funded Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group/Unit jointly with the University of Cape Town’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit (OEHRU) from 2002-2005. This was the only such unit in the country.
Working jointly with the Departments of Community Health and Medicine, the Centre has now a well-established Master in Medical Science programme in OEH. This latter programme consists of a variety of streams, including, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational hygiene, ergonomics and environmental health. Students may choose to exit with a postgraduate diploma in occupational health, or enroll for additional modules (specific to each stream) and complete a dissertation to graduate with the master’s level qualification. Sixty-five have graduated from our diploma programme, and we currently have the first cohort of 13 students enrolled in our master’s programme. The Centre was recently approved as a recognised academic training facility for occupational medicine, a newly recognised speciality in South Africa. This will be a four year training program for medical doctors with a basic medical qualification.
Since 1996, in the form of the OHP and since 2003, as the COEH, the Centre has been the MFC institution in the UM/FIC Program in South and Southern Africa. As part of this role, the Centre has played a key administrative role of the Program in the region, been responsible for academic training of recipients of Fogarty funding in the region, organised the regional Biennial Conferences of the Program, supported research development of Fogarty recipients and assisted in the development of the Resource Centres in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. In addition, since August 2005, the COEH has also become responsible for the implementation of the other key regional initiative in occupational and environmental health, the Work and Health in Southern Africa (WAHSA).
Today, the DOEH consists of full-time staff of at least 10 people
UKZN will contribute to WP2 and WP6. UKZN is located in the cholera, malaria and air pollution centres of South Africa and will play an important role by conducting validation pilots locally. UKZN has identified use cases in South Africa to test and evaluate the components developed in WP4 and WP5 with regard to their usability and applicability.
UKZN have good relationships with the Department of Health in South Africa and access to health related data.