Dr. Nelson Mwaniki: Occupational Health Specialist

12th February 2018
Dr. Nelson Mwaniki Source:The Midweek Sun


By Sun Reporter - Reporter

Tell us a little about yourself, your background?

I am a medical doctor with a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Nairobi, Kenya (1983). I am also a holder of a Master of Science degree in Occupational Medicine from the National University of Singapore (NUS) which has consistently ranked among the top 20 leading Universities of the world. I entered the world of medicine as a Medical Officer Intern at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi in 1983 but had to leave clinical medicine immediately I finished my internship in 1984 because I felt strongly that I did not want to spend the rest of my life indoors looking out of the window and attending to queues of patients. Instead, I chose to go into public health and specifically into occupational health and safety. In May 2001, I joined the Ministry of Health in Botswana as a Public Health Specialist and worked as such until my retirement in 2015 when I decided to get into private practice under the Modern Occupational Health and Training Services (PTY) Ltd

What is occupational health, what does it entail and how is it provided?

Occupational health is a branch of public health which aims at ensuring the highest level of health among workers for maximum productivity. This is in view of the fact that workers are a captive population which faces the twin tragedy of not only being unable to access the national public health services like everybody else but are almost invariably faced with health threatening hazards at work. Occupational Health entails;- 1. Protection of workers against hazards in the workplace, 2. Using the workplace as a venue for educating workers on preventable diseases and providing preventative services like immunisations and screening, 3. Engaging workers on health promoting activities like exercises, healthy eating, and stress management, and finally, 4. Ensuring a perfect match between the work and the worker’s abilities for example, placing workers in jobs that match their physical and psychological abilities. In many African countries, provision of occupational health services remain a no-man’s land between the Ministries responsible for Health and those responsible for Labour

From experience, what occupational health diseases have you come across?

From my experience, non-occupational diseases like, heart diseases, infections, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and un-intended injuries affect workers much more than occupational diseases. This calls for a joint effort between government and employers if the highest level of health for workers is to be achieved. Of the occupational diseases which I have come across, occupational injuries, stress related diseases like duodenal ulcers, high blood pressure, depression, and un-intended injuries feature prominently. Noise induced hearing loss and dust related lung diseases are also common.

What trends related to occupational health have you observed over the years?

push towards wellness and total health of the workers and their families being initiated at corporate levels. The inclusion of Wellness in the Ministry of Health is also good news if it is followed through by a shift of focus from paying too much attention to the sick population and ignoring the prevention of healthy ones from falling into sickness. The increased awareness of human rights and the globalisation of trade which requires goods to be produced in healthy and safe working environments is also something which will force governments and employers to take occupational health and safety seriously.

You are the principal consultant in Modern Occupational Health and Training Services. What does that entail?

Modern Occupational Health and Training Services (MOHTS) provides all manner of occupational health services aimed at helping organisations to minimise their risks to health as stated above. In addition, MOHTS has special interest in medicinal plants which are abundant in Botswana but have been demonised by the western medicine healthcare model. In this regard, MOHTS has undertaken and continues to undertake on-farm research into several of such medicinal plants with collaboration with research scientists from the University of Botswana, BUAN and the Department of Agricultural Research.

What unique challenges have you come across?

I must admit that the occupational health services procuring processes for most companies and public institutions are a big challenge. On many occasions, it is not possible to penetrate the market because there are so many occupational health service providers who are not experts in the field. On several occasions, some occupational health services providers have requested me to submit my curriculum vitae when bidding for a tender with a promise that they would hire my services after winning the tender. To my surprise, I later come to find out that they won the tender but got another cheaper doctor to provide the same services which I had helped to draft a technical proposal. Another challenge is the absence of the national occupational health regulations and standards as well as the paucity of trained human resource in occupational health. This creates a scenario where companies hire the most readily available service providers or the best tenderpreneurs. Again, on several occasions, I have had to rescue such service providers who were unable to deliver as per the tender agreement. Regarding the promotion of the use of locally available medicinal plants, the main challenge is the fact that the use of traditional healing systems which are not supported by scientific evidence is strongly opposed by the western medicine biomedical model which holds that any medicine or health intervention which has not undergone randomised clinical trials cannot and should not be allowed for public use. For example, after completing the 2015 Gaborone 42 km Marathon, I developed a nagging pain on my left heel which got worse every time I put my weight on the leg. This happened for about two years and only improved when I took some pain killers but kept coming back. To my surprise and relief, this pain disappeared when I started taking mosukujane herbal tea and has never come back. When I shared this with one of my colleagues in clinical practice, he called me a traditional healer with pun intended.

What is a typical week like for you?

nce I left the public service last year, I have had a pretty much open diary and a sabbatical leave from occupational health services spending more time on growing and processing medicinal plants. I am therefore operating from my house. My typical week starts every day with morning prayers at the St. Augustine Theological School church which lasts for about one hour. Thereafter, I spend time developing my occupational health services marketing plans. On Saturdays, I am almost always in the farm attending to my plants.

What are some of your professional goals for the future?

At 61 years of age, I feel I have pretty much achieved my academic and professional career goals. In fact my interest in medicinal plants and occupational health training is part of my exit plan from active professional life. Nevertheless, I might still consider pursuing a PHD qualification in order to qualify as a lecturer for Masters’ students in the area of occupational health.


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