Ecohealth Conference attendees and the organising team.

The College of Health Sciences (CHS) hosted the first African Chapter on Ecohealth Conference at the International Convention Centre in Durban in collaboration with the Durban Tourism and National Convention Bureau.

The conference provided a forum for sharing research findings which address health problems holistically as well as for the African Chapter on Ecohealth to be affiliated to Ecohealth International.

According to the organisers, Ecohealth is a research approach that addresses health in the context of the physical and socio-political-cultural ecological environment. The approach is premised on six pillars: systems thinking, transdisciplinary, stakeholder participation, gender and social equity, knowledge to action, and sustainability.

CHS Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Busi Ncama said the College was proud to have co-hosted the Ecohealth African Chapter Conference and witness the African Chapter on Ecohealth getting affiliated to Ecohealth International.

‘We are pleased by the fact that our own researchers are taking a lead in this process and therefore giving UKZN international visibility and prominence,’ said Ncama.

The Ecohealth approach which addresses health challenges in the context of the physical and socio-political-cultural and ecological environment fits very well in the UKZN Flagship theme: African Health – Saving Lives,’ according to Ncama.

‘Ecohealth International acts locally and connects globally to share and promote skills and qualities that protect the diversity and integrity of our earth’s ecosystems,’ said keynote speaker, Ecohealth International Interim co-Vice President, Dr Jonathan Sleeman. ‘We work towards addressing widening disparities in health, the pollution of land, water, and the atmosphere and wildlife loss.’

UKZN’s School of Nursing and Public Health Professor Moses Chimbari said the conference was a realisation of a great dream that he, the late Professor Okello-Onen and Professor Samson Mukaratirwa had harboured since 2002 when they were part of the System Wide Initiative on Malaria and Agriculture (SIMA).

‘Prof Onen and I argued the case for an African network on Ecohealth at different forums including at the International Association for Ecology and Health biennial conferences in Merida (Mexico), London and Kumning (China),’ said Chimbari.

‘With support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Network for Ecohealth Researchers and Practitioners in East and Southern Africa (ECOHESA) was established in May 2011,’ said Chimbari.

ECOHESA conducted a training workshop in Johannesburg in December 2013 where a Board comprising Chimbari as Chairman, Mukaratirwa as Vice-Chairman, Professor J Kinabo (Treasurer), Dr O Thanked (Secretary-General), Okelo-Onen and Mr L Chavhunduka was elected.

‘Since then we have dreamed of a day when we would be able to bring students and researchers from diverse disciplines to a forum where they would showcase their work and claim their stake in the Ecohealth movement.

‘Durban 2018 Ecohealth African Chapter Conference is indeed the outcome of this dream.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini