Government business has taken me to three continents- Funwako Dlamini

2 July 2024

Funwako Dlamini has travelled to three continents of the world representing Government at various forums. In our latest civil servants’ blog, the Ministry of Health’s Chief Environmental Health Officer talks about his journey in the civil service spanning 33 years.

Government Communication (GC): “When did you join the Civil Service?”

Funwako Dlamini (FD): “I joined the Civil Service (Ministry of Health) on 1st October 1991 as a Health Inspector. When I joined the Ministry of Health, we were referred to as ‘health inspectors’ before the change of the title to that of ‘Environmental Health Officer,’ in January 2010.”

GC: “What is your current job now and what does it entail?”

FD: “Currently, I am the Chief Environmental Health Officer and Head of Environmental Health Department stationed at the Ministry of Health Headquarters in Mbabane. The general description of the Chief Environmental Health Officer duties are as follows: serves as the general manager and technical head of the Environmental Health Department; provides leadership and administrative functions for the department; develops and oversees the implementation of all environmental health programmes, and liaises with other Ministries and organisations whose activities affect environmental health in Eswatini; guides and leads the formulation of policies and laws, as well as ensuring national compliance to international conventions. I also serve as a member of the Senior Management Team (SMT) of the Ministry of Health whose main responsibility is to support the Honourable Minister and Principal Secretary in taking key decisions, ensuring that the vision and mission of the Ministry are realised.”

GC: “Before this role, what other positions did you occupy in the Service?”

FD: “I have risen steadily through the ranks from an ordinary Environmental Health Officer to the apex of the department. I joined the Ministry of Health as an Environmental Health Officer (Health Inspector) in 1991. I acted as the Regional Environmental Health Officer in the Manzini Region from November 2003 and was promoted to the same position in October 2009. I then moved to become Principal Environmental Health Officer in October 2011. In August, 2020 I was elevated to the position of Deputy Chief Environmental Health Officer. Then, in September 2023, I was promoted to my current position of Chief Environmental Health Officer. I acquired a Diploma in Environmental Health at the then Swaziland Institute of Health Sciences in 1991 and a BSc in Environmental Health at the University of Eswatini in 2003. I went on to pursue an MSc in Environmental Health in 2012/2013 at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, in the United Kingdom.”

GC: “So far, what would you say the biggest highlight/achievement of your Civil Service journey has been?

FD: “There are many achievements to mention in my tenure as a Civil Servant, but the memorable ones are on career development and travelling on Government business to three continents, apart from Africa. I joined the Ministry as an ordinary Environmental Health Officer with a Diploma in Environmental Health, but today I am the Chief Environmental Health Officer and Head of Department with a BSc and MSc in Environmental Health. I am grateful to my Government for financially supporting all my studies, from undergraduate to postgraduate. The greatest achievement in my career was attaining an MSc in Environmental Health from my dream country, the United Kingdom, and being awarded the David Livingstone Centre for Sustainability (DLCS) prize for the Best MSc Environmental Health Dissertation 2013 was just the icing on the cake. I am also proud of being awarded a highly prestigious and competitive Commonwealth Scholarship through Canon Collins Trust Fund in 2012 to further my studies in the UK. I have travelled widely to many countries in Africa, one in North America, four in Europe, and one in Asia, attending courses, workshops and representing the country in international meetings. Travelling has opened my eyes and helped me to appreciate some of the good things we do and have in the country.”

GC: “What is the biggest project that you have been involved in working for Government?”

FD: “I was actively involved in the development of the Scheme of Service resulting in the change of the department title from ‘health inspectorate’ to ‘environmental health,’ the change of title from ‘Health Inspector’ to ‘Environmental Health Officer’ as well as the establishment of the Port Health Unit. I was also involved in the development of the Port Health Standards of Operations (SOP). I also led the review of the Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations of 1973 which are now a final draft. I also led the development of two guidelines during COVID-19: the Proper Cleaning and Disinfection of Healthcare Facilities and Public Places; and Proper Handling of Dead Bodies due to COVID-19 and other Infectious Diseases. The development of the Port Health SOP and guidelines by the department saved our Government from bearing the cost of engaging consultants to develop such documents.”

GC: “What does the Environmental Health Department as a whole do?”

FD: “Environmental health is one of the key branches of public health, involved in the prevention and control of communicable diseases. The main responsibility of the department is to protect human health by eliminating risks and hazards in the built and natural environment. We protect human health from being adversely affected by external factors that may be physical, chemical or biological. We have the responsibility to protect the natural environment which entails the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the land on which we grow our food and build homes, from any form of contamination or pollution. We also have a responsibility to protect the built environment such as the workplaces we work in, homes we live in, and others from causing occupational injuries and diseases. We do so much to protect human health but we remain as unsung heroes because of the nature of prevention which is predominantly done behind the scenes.”

GC: “How crucial is the cleanliness of the environment that we live in for our wellbeing?

FD: “Cleanliness is basic to good health and pivotal to primary healthcare. Living in a clean environment is important for aesthetical reasons, to eliminate any source of infection, and for mental health.”

GC: “There are, at times, complaints about the quality of food and hygiene standards in some establishments across the country. What does your Department do to ensure that shops serving emaSwati food are following all hygiene protocols?”

FD: “Yes, there are some food establishments which are non-compliant to hygiene protocols thus exposing consumers to high risk of contracting foodborne illnesses through the consumption of contaminated food. Basically, we conduct mass and individual health education to food business operators, including food handlers, about good hygienic practices leading to food safety. We also encourage food business operators to develop systems for self-monitoring of their daily practices as we cannot be in all food establishments at the same time. We also conduct regular unannounced inspections of structures and foodstuffs which may be done individually by an area officer and jointly by several officers in a form of a campaign. The main challenge is to deal with informal food vendors which are non-compliant to health requirements and give unfair competition to the formal sector. We have just finished reviewing the Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations of 1973, and the draft has stringent regulations to deal decisively with non-compliant food establishments in both the formal and informal sectors. The informal sector will be easily dealt with, as it would be illegal to operate any food establishment without being registered with the Ministry of Health and Municipalities.”

GC: “How do you engage emaSwati on cleanliness, particularly those in rural areas?”

FD: “We have Environmental Health Officers and Environmental Health Assistants stationed in many parts of the country, who conduct health education about the prevention and control of environmental related diseases to communities. We organise community meetings and attend community meetings at Tinkhundla Centres, Chiefs’ Residences (Imiphakatsi) etc., to educate emaSwati about the prevention of communicable diseases. We also organise clean-up campaigns in areas which are littered with waste materials such as papers, plastics, and others. We try our best with the limited resources we have in terms of human resource, transport, finance and other challenges.”

GC: “What do you love the most about working in Government?”

FD: “The most rewarding thing about working for Government is the incomparable job security which you cannot get from anywhere else apart from Civil Service. A Government can be best described as a selfless and patient employer who employs inexperienced employees and develops them to become highly skilled and knowledgeable. I joined the Ministry of Health with a Diploma certificate but today I am in possession of both Bachelor and Master’s certificates.”

GC: “What do you love the most about your job and profession?”

FD: “I am in this profession for the love of it. To me, environmental health was not a career option but a deliberate career. I cannot imagine myself being something else apart from being an Environmental Health Officer. The thing I love the most about my job is working closely with people from all walks of life. It is an exciting and dynamic profession which allows one to plan and work independently with minimum supervision. There is no day which is ever the same in environmental health as we are generalists working across many thematic areas. There is also room for being a specialist concentrating on one area of expertise. This profession requires an innovative thinker as you have to plan your work according to the needs of the area. It is also worth mentioning that I am the only person so far in the Ministry who has a pure MSc in Environmental Health. I am proud of it because I got it from one of the highly reputable countries (the UK) in the field of environmental health.”

GC: “What would you say are some of the challenges that come with your job?”

FD: “Some of the challenges are limited resources and inadequate laws to effectively protect human health. Environmental health is one of the underrated or lowly recognised professions in the civil service which is also not well remunerated. I would love to see Government invest more in environmental health. Investing in environmental health can help to curb so many environmental-related diseases from occurring, thus reducing the dependence on drugs for the treatment of preventable diseases. A relatively small investment in environmental health can provide an enormous pay-back in public/community health benefits.”

GC: “What lessons have you learnt working for Government?”

FD: “I have learnt that working for Government needs one to be self-disciplined and dedicated to his or her job. Government has the best systems, working procedures, conditions of service, among others, only to be let down by us. Government is the best place to gain experience, and develop one’s career to any level, without much cost.”

GC: “What advice would you have for someone who wants to work for Government?”

FD: “You need to be objective and willing to serve the country and its people. The remuneration in terms of salaries in the civil service is lower compared to the private sector but this is outweighed by job security and chances of career advancement within the civil service. There are more chances of advancement in terms of education in Government than in most private sector organisations.”

GC: “What are your aspirations for the future in Government?”

FD: “I want to take the Environmental Health Department to the next level of visibility and recognition by the Government and public. I wish to see Government invest more in environmental health to realise and appreciate its potential in the protection of human health against all forms of external factors. We have a potential of contributing to the country's economic growth by preventing people from getting ill, thus improving their productivity.”

--Ends—

 

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