By Lyse Comins
She visits fishmongers and five-star restaurants, housing developments, crèches and suburban homes. She tramples up peri-urban hills and through riverbeds responding to disease outbreaks and environmental health issues.
For senior environmental health practitioner, (formerly called a health inspector) Thobeka Jona, conducting inspections and handling complaints from the public is part of her rewarding career with the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
Thobeka is passionate about health and the environment and is skilled to deal diplomatically, yet firmly, with people, while resolving environmental health issues, ranging from the nuisance of noisy dogs to ensuring restaurant and factory processes are compliant with the National Health Act.
Interested in the community
Senior health practitioners Thobeka, Bruce Black and their manager, Themba Mlambo, all employed as part of the eThekwini Municipality’s Outer West area team, knew from a young age that they wanted to make a difference by becoming environmental health practitioners.
“In 1984 there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the Eastern Cape and people were slaughtering the cattle, eating the meat and as a result getting sick. This was due to the fact that the community was uneducated and had no-one to advise them that you need to wait before slaughtering the cattle after immunizing the animals,” Thobeka says, describing her childhood experiences that motivated her career choice.
“There were no environmental health inspectors there and I wanted to be able to educate people,” Thobeka points out.
Many practitioners are employed in local government and are expected to have a wide variety of skills, to fulfil functions under four major areas of responsibility including food safety; occupational/industrial health; epidemiology and the environment.
Thobeka and Bruce regularly inspect food premises such as restaurants and retailers, to ensure compliance with legislation and a safe supply of food to consumers. Duties include issuing licences and certificates of acceptability; health; education; food, oil and agar sampling; inspecting and registering informal food handlers and responding to complaints