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FACULTY OF health scienceS
Centre for Occupational and
Environmental Health Research
The Centre’s aim is to be a principal centre of OEH
research, teaching and training, occupational medical
clinical services, policy advisory, technical consultancy
services, advocacy and a source of supportive outreach
activities in South Africa, in the Southern and Eastern
regions of Africa, Africa more generally, and internationally.
The major objectives of the Centre are firstly, to conduct
multidisciplinary research, teaching and service
provision of high priority in Southern Africa. integrating
laboratory, clinical, epidemiological and policy skills.
Another key objective is to explore and develop means
of maintaining the health of workers and environmentally
exposed communities. A third objective is to conduct
policy research into issues ranging from toxic or injurious
exposures through to health surveillance. Fostering inter-
institutional research, teaching and service (including
outreach) collaboration and capacity development
constitutes another major objective. Finally, another aim
is to foster local and global networks for occupational and
environmental health promotion through collaboration with
United Nations and other agencies.
Key research projects
Key research areas for the Centre currently include the
identification of risk factors and evaluating preventive
approaches for allergens and asthma in the workplace,
health hazards of chemicals (such as pesticides and
endocrine disruptors) and silicosis elimination in gold
miners. Workforces that are of particular relevance
for the Centre’s work include health care workers,
with a specific focus on studying the determinants of
TB infection and diagnostic approaches in order to
prevent the spread of TB related to the HIV epidemic.
Other vulnerable groups include agricultural workers
(for whom injuries and pesticide-related asthma and
neurotoxicity are a problem) and mine worker’s (at
high risk of developing pneumoconioses and TB).
Environmental risks for workers and communities
exposed to metals, such as manganese and arsenic,
and other chemicals in the working and residential
environments are assessed and monitored. More recently
climate change and its impact on occupational and
general health has become a focus linked to the UCT
African Climate and Development Initiative. These areas
are supplemented by a broader focus on research to
address occupational and environmental health systems
and worker’s compensation, as well as developing
programmes to build OHS capacity through research
and training in the SADC region. Through the Fogarty
International Centre International Training and Research
in Environmental and Occupational Health (ITREOH)
and the Millemium Promise Programme (MPP) for non
communicable chronic diseases.
The COEHR is one of only two WHO collaborating
Centres in occupational health on the African continent,
contributing to the global research agenda. The past
year also saw the nomination of another member, Prof
Mohamed Jeebhay as Fellow to the Collegium Ramazzini.
He joins Professors Jonny Myers, Leslie London and
Rodney Ehrlich, other staff of COEHR, belonging to this
global organization of 180 fellows whose mission is to
advance the study of occupational and environmental
health issues and act as a bridge between the world of
scientific discovery and the social and political centers,
which must act on the discoveries of science to protect
public health. The past year also saw Prof Jeebhay
delivering his inaugural address as full professor in the
SOPHFM. In 2011 COEHR researchers were invited to join
an international consortium of agricultural health studies
called AGRICOH. Leslie London and Jonny Myers were
awarded the honour of hosting the 12
Symposium on Neurobehavioral Methods and Effects in
Occupational and Environmental Health scheduled for
2013 in Cape Town.
Health Risk Management Programme
The Health Risk Management Programme (HRMP)
within the COEHR conducts research, capacity building
(teaching/training and networking), social responsiveness,
and develops risk communication materials in the area of
pesticides and chemical risk management and reduction.
The HRMP research focuses on the silent public and
environmental health problem of informal vendors selling
agricultural pesticides for household pest control,
child poisonings from street pesticides; occupational
herbicide exposures of community workers removing
alien vegetation in the Working for Water programme,
and developing risk communication tools for low-literacy
populations and health professionals. These research
projects involve engagement with NGOs, community
leaders/members, national, provincial and municipal
government departments (health, agriculture and water
affairs). Capacity building, particularly of African and
other developing country pesticide regulators, involves
information sharing of research findings and policy relevant
information through UCT’s internet based educational
platform – Vula. The HRMP established electronic list
servers, an on-line discussion forum and a new Post
Graduate Programme (Diploma and Professional Master’s)
in Pesticide Risk Management continues to strengthen.
The African Pesticide Regulators bi-monthly on-line
discussion forum continues to be an innovative approach
to information dissemination to government officials tasked
with regulating pesticides and post graduate students as
well as providing a becoming a successful networking
examples for others. The post graduate diploma in