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PUBLIC HEALTH EDUCATION
Year : 2011  |  Volume : 55  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 100-106  

Public health engineering education in India: Current scenario, opportunities and challenges


1 Senior Lecturer, Indian Institute of Public Health- Bhubaneswar, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India
2 Manager- Academic Programs and Adjunct Lecturer, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India
3 Director, Public Health Education, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication22-Sep-2011

Correspondence Address:
Mohammad Akhtar Hussain
Indian Institute of Public Health-Bhubaneswar, Public Health Foundation of India, JSS software Technology Park, E1/1, Infocity Road, Patia, Bhubaneswar, Orissa
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0019-557X.85240

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   Abstract 

Public health engineering can play an important and significant role in solving environmental health issues. In order to confront public health challenges emerging out of environmental problems we need adequately trained public health engineers / environmental engineers. Considering the current burden of disease attributable to environmental factors and expansion in scope of applications of public health / environmental engineering science, it is essential to understand the present scenario of teaching, training and capacity building programs in these areas. Against this background the present research was carried out to know the current teaching and training programs in public health engineering and related disciplines in India and to understand the potential opportunities and challenges availables. A systematic, predefined approach was used to collect and assemble the data related to various teaching and training programs in public health engineering / environmental engineering in India. Public health engineering / environmental engineering education and training in the country is mainly offered through engineering institutions, as pre-service and in-service training. Pre-service programs include diploma, degree (graduate) and post-graduate courses affiliated to various state technical boards, institutes and universities, whereas in-service training is mainly provided by Government of India recognized engineering and public health training institutes. Though trainees of these programs acquire skills related to engineering sciences, they significantly lack in public health skills. The teaching and training of public health engineering / environmental engineering is limited as a part of public health programs (MD Community Medicine, MPH, DPH) in India. There is need for developing teaching and training of public health engineering or environmental engineering as an interdisciplinary subject. Public health institutes can play an important and significant role in this regard by engaging themselves in initiating specialized programs in this domain.

Keywords: Public health engineering, Environmental engineering, Public health education, India


How to cite this article:
Hussain MA, Sharma K, Zodpey S. Public health engineering education in India: Current scenario, opportunities and challenges. Indian J Public Health 2011;55:100-6

How to cite this URL:
Hussain MA, Sharma K, Zodpey S. Public health engineering education in India: Current scenario, opportunities and challenges. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2011 [cited 2019 Sep 20];55:100-6. Available from: http://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2011/55/2/100/85240


   Introduction Top


Post independence Government of India through several ministries had started centrally sponsored urban and rural sanitation as well as many other programs for adequate supply of safe water and sanitation. In contrary to these efforts, recurring outbreaks of gastrointestinal disorders, hemorrhagic dengue fever as well as large scale outbreaks of malaria point towards insufficiency in the efforts to improving environmental health and sanitation. Multiple operating agencies with poor co-ordination between them have added to poor program efficiency [1] . Low level of urban, peri-urban and rural sanitation is still a matter of deep concern. A national survey carried out by Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India covering all major cities of the country and almost 72% of total urban population has shown that 189 (44.68%) cities are on the brink of public health and environmental 'emergency'; needing immediate remedial action followed by 230 cities which need considerable improvements. There are only four cities namely Chandigarh, Mysore, Surat and New Delhi which depicts that they are recovering but still diseased. Presently there is no single city in the country which can be considered as healthy and clean. [2]

Safe drinking water or improved sanitation is not the only factor posing problem in the country; there are several other factors showing their impact on environmental health. According to recent estimates 24% of total disease burden in the country is due to environmental risk [3] . Environmental health risks fall into two broad categories: traditional hazards related to poverty and lack of development such as lack of safe water supply, inadequate sanitation and waste disposal, indoor air pollution and vector-borne diseases; and modern hazards caused by developments that lack environmental safeguards, such as urban air pollution and exposure to agro-industrial chemicals and waste. [4] The chemical and biological solutions to address these problems are simple, though challenging.

With increasing problems related to water, air and soil pollution; environmental emergencies; industrial solid and liquid waste management; industrial and occupational safety; and toxic chemical hazards public health engineering / environmental engineering has a greater role to play in today's scenario as well as in future. Public health engineering (PHE), sanitary engineering (SE) and environmental engineering (EE) are terms used inter changeably. Application of engineering methods to improve sanitation primarily by providing removal and disposal of human waste in addition to the supply of safe potable water is usually termed as 'sanitary engineering'. Over the years with the development in engineering science the name has changed from sanitary engineering to public health engineering and presently it is also termed as environmental engineering. The role of environmental engineering as compared to sanitary engineering/public health engineering in influencing public health is much more comprehensive which can be understood from the fact that Government of India renamed the Central Public Health Engineering Research Institute (CPHERI), established in 1953 as National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in the year 1974. [5]

Looking at the current burden of disease attributable to environmental factors and the expansion of the domain of environmental health in recent years, the role of PHE / EE in improving people's health cannot be ignored. Hence, it is important to have adequately trained public health engineers / environmental engineers in place to respond to these challenges. However, no systematic information is available regarding the current status of teaching, training and capacity building in PHE /EE in India and potential opportunities and challenges in this context. Against this background the present situation analysis has been undertaken to understand the current teaching and training of public health engineering and related disciplines in India.


   Materials and Methods Top


Information on existing courses in public health engineering / environmental engineering offered in India was collected and assimilated in a matrix. We used the similar methodology to undertake this situation analysis, which was used in an earlier study. [6]

A detailed internet search was carried out to gather all information available in the public domain regarding the courses being offered in public health engineering / environmental engineering in India. The various search engines used were Google, Dogpile, etc. Key words identified for the search included: public health engineering, environmental engineering, sanitary engineering, environmental health, public health education, India. Websites of other National Institutes were also searched for relevant information, which included All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health - Kolkata, Indian Institute of Technology, National Institute of Technology, Department of Public Health Engineering, All India Council for Technical Education etc. Education supplements of leading newspapers were also scanned through to gather information on available courses in this domain. This was useful in gathering information regarding the available institutes, admission and eligibility criteria.

Informal discussions with students and faculty of this discipline were conducted to get information related to the programs. Administrative staff of public health engineering (PHE), sanitary engineering (SE), environmental engineering (EE) and civil engineering (CE) courses were also contacted to procure desired information. Working professionals in the field of PHE / EE were also included in a formal discussion.


   Results Top


Public health engineering / environmental engineering education in India is largely provided by engineering institutes, while very limited training is provided through institutes of public health. Through engineering institutes, teaching and training in PHE/EE is offered both at pre-service and in-service level. Pre-service teaching and training in PHE/EE includes diploma, degree (graduate) and post-graduate courses affiliated to various state technical boards, institutes and universities. Whereas in-service training is mainly provided by Government of India recognized engineering and public health training institutes.

Pre-service teaching and training in public health engineering/environmental engineering:

a. Diploma in public health engineering/environmental engineering:

The State run Public Health Engineering Departments, some of the state technical education boards and universities in the country are offering diploma courses in public health engineering / environmental engineering [Table 1]. Presently numbers of institutes or boards awarding these diplomas are limited. Candidates having a minimum qualification of 10 th Class pass (10 th Class Examination under 10+2 System of Education Examination with Mathematics as a subject) are eligible to pursue this three years diploma course. The students acquire knowledge about importance of sanitation, various terms and systems of refuge and refuge disposal, methods of solid waste disposal, rural water supply and sanitation, causes, types, effects and control of air and noise pollution, town planning, industrial waste water treatment, fundamentals of ecology and microbiology. In addition, public health engineering is also taught as a module in civil engineering diploma courses.
Table 1: Teaching and training programs in public health engineering / environmental engineering in India

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b. Degree courses in public health engineering/ environmental engineering:

PHE/EE education at undergraduate level is mainly offered to students pursuing civil engineering. All engineering colleges through departments of civil engineering provide such teaching and training. The study duration of entire course is four years of which PHE/EE includes five to ten credits depending upon the institutes and universities. The core areas of training are construction technology, geotechnical engineering, transportation engineering, municipal and sanitary services, surveying and mapping, and hydraulics and water resources. These subjects are compulsory for all the graduate trainees pursuing civil engineering.

There are about ten institutes/ technical universities which provide bachelor degrees either Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) or Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) in environmental engineering [Table 1]. The duration of these courses is four years. Beside the core engineering subjects, the course curriculum for B.E (EE) includes environmental chemistry and microbiology, principles of environmental science and engineering, applied hydraulics and fluid machines, ecology, water supply engineering, industrial safety, microbiology, solid waste management, air pollution and control, wastewater, noise pollution and control, energy engineering, occupational hazards and industrial hygiene, disaster management, transport of water and waste water, hazardous waste management, industrial waste management and environmental impact assessment etc.

c. Post graduation courses in public health engineering/environmental engineering:

Post graduate teaching and training is mainly offered by engineering colleges which have facilities for postgraduate teaching in civil engineering and environmental engineering. Depending upon the institute/university they provide either a Master of Technology (M.Tech.) or Master of Engineering (M.E.) degree to the passed out students. Some of the institutions/universities providing M.Tech or M.E. degrees are listed in the [Table 1].

All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (AIIH&PH), Kolkata is the only institute of public health in the country which awards Master in Engineering Public Health (MEPH) degree. The uniqueness of this training program which differentiates it from other engineering institutes/ universities providing either M.Tech or M.E degree is that the teaching and training at AIIH&PH lays emphasis on core public health domains, such as epidemiology, communicable diseases, bacteriology, biology and microbiology, parasitology, entomology, principles and practice of public health, sanitation, vital statistics, industrial and occupational health, and organization and administration of public health services. The second half of the program contains pure engineering subjects. In contrary to this engineering institutes/universities/organizations [Table 1] basically provide training on environmental engineering covering broad domains such as statistics, environmental chemistry and microbiology, water and waste water treatment, solid and hazardous waste management, transport of water and waste water, air quality measurement, environmental impact assessment, environmental geotechnology, water resource management system etc. However they lack the basic foundation of public health courses as taught in AIIH&PH, Kolkata. These courses are of two years duration and admission to these institutes can be made through GATE examination or as a sponsored candidate from state and central Public Health Engineering Departments.

In-service teaching and training in public health engineering/ environmental engineering:

The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India, the nodal ministry in charge for various aspects of urban development including Urban Water Supply and Sanitation (UWSS) in the country formulates the policies and strategies pertaining to various aspects of urban development including water supply, sanitation and municipal solid waste management in the country and also provides technical and financial assistance to the States. [7] The Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organization (CPHEEO), technical wing of MoUD, Government of India deals with the matters related to UWSS including solid waste management in the country. Realizing the fact that over the years PHE has made tremendous improvement in the technology and environmental engineering has a greater impact on improving human health; training in these fields are essential for design, construction, operation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation projects, to meet the criteria of cost effectiveness and efficient operation, maintenance and repair. In this regard CPHEEO, had launched PHE training programme way back in 1956 with the objective of providing training to in-service engineers and para-engineering staff of the various state public health engineering departments, water supply and sewerage boards, urban local bodies etc. Since then the coverage of these activities has increased considerably over the years. The following PHE training programmes are being conducted through research and academic institutes and field departments. [8]

1. Post graduate course in public health engineering/environmental engineering

The Ministry of Urban Development has recognized twelve academic institutions across the country to conduct post graduate degree (two years duration) in public health engineering/environmental engineering [Table 1] for in-service engineers and para-engineering staff of various state public health engineering departments, water supply and sewerage boards, urban local bodies etc.

2. Short term course in public health engineering/environmental engineering

This program has been tailored in such a way that diploma engineers working in state public health engineering departments/water supply and sewerage boards/urban local bodies get adequate exposure towards the finer points of public health engineering, so that they can apply the same in the field. The course is of three months duration. At present, this short term course is conducted at two Institutes viz. Anna University, Chennai and Shri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering, Mysore.

3. Refresher course in public health engineering

Refresher courses on various aspects of design, construction, operation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation facilities including solid waste management are conducted on regular intervals by the ministry through different academic, research and professional institutions and state departments. The duration of refresher courses vary from one week to four weeks. Intake capacity on these courses vary from 15 to 30 candidates in each course depending upon the level of participants, nature of course, duration etc. The refresher courses sponsored by the ministry are broadly on computer aided design for water and sewage treatment plants, water supply and sewer network, water works supervision, filter operation, project planning, sewage works supervision, operation and maintenance aspects of water supply systems, new development in water treatment, water supply system management, water quality monitoring and surveillance, water and sewage treatment plants design, corrosion control, water and waste water analysis, solid waste management, pipes and conduits and pumping machinery etc.

Every year CPHEEO invites nominations from the concerned state departments/agencies dealing with water supply and sanitation for the aforementioned courses. During 1998 to 2010 about 500 engineers have successfully completed the post graduate course in PHE/EE through this initiative where as about 160 and 13171 engineers were benefited through short term and refreshers courses in PHE/EE. [9]

Beside these refresher courses, public health engineering departments of different states also conduct refresher courses on recent advances in water and sanitation. Organizations like Indian Water Works Association (IWWA) with its branches in 27 cities in different states, Institution of Public Health Engineers, Kolkata (IPHE), National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur (NEERI), Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi (CSE) etc along with their partner institutes provide short term and refresher courses on different aspects of public health engineering and environmental engineering.

All of the above programs (diploma, degree and master degree courses) primarily belong to the domain of engineering science. Although the discipline is nomenclatured as PHE/EE, the focus on core public health and environmental health is still very limited.

Teaching / training of public health engineering and environmental engineering (health) through medical colleges and public health institutions

Presently, there are 335 medical colleges in India with an average annual intake of 40335 students for MBBS course. Environmental health with very limited focus on public health engineering is taught to these students as a part of their public health training through Departments of Community Medicine. A total of 184 medical colleges have post-graduate degree course in Social and Preventive Medicine or Community Medicine (annual intake capacity of 602 postgraduates), 39 medical colleges run Diploma in Public Health (DPH) with an intake of 140 students per year and six medical colleges have diploma in community medicine (DCM) with an annual intake of 13 students. These programs have considerable extent of focus on environmental health. However, the component of public health engineering is grossly missing from the syllabus. There is limited emphasis in training on applications of engineering science in solving the environmental health issues. Presently 23 institutes in India offer Master in Public Health (MPH) degree. Out of these 23 institutes only one institute provides training on environmental and occupational health and that too with limited focus on public health engineering. None of the MPH program in India focuses exhaustively on public health engineering as a part of their syllabus.


   Discussion Top


The State Governments/Union Territories and urban local bodies are responsible for providing basic services like safe water supply, maintaining adequate sanitation, proper sewage disposal, control of pollution etc. These services are provided through planning, design, implementation, operation and maintenance of various project activities. The Government of India had launched the National Urban Sanitation Policy in December 2008 with a vision of making all Indian cities and towns totally sanitized, healthy and livable; ensuring and sustaining good public health and environmental outcomes for all with a special focus on hygienic and affordable sanitation facilities for the urban poor and women. [10] Considering the low level of sanitation and increasing environmental emergencies in urban and peri-urban areas in the country, the proactive steps are taken by MoUD several years back to train the existing engineers in the public system in PHE/EE. This initiative can be considered as highly demand driven.

Now-a-days public health engineering departments instead of contributing towards wide range of environmental activities like managing subsoil water drainage to control of vector breeding and safe disposal of solid waste, have narrowed down their activities sharply and limited themselves to provision of water supply and in some cases sewerage operations. Public health will be better ensured if these departments broaden their range of activities and address more public health needs and challenges in coordination with the health department. [11] Due to progressive development in science and technology in past few decades, new and innovative techniques have started replacing old ones. In such a changed scenario where optimization and efficiency are the key words for all services, refresher courses can impart updating of knowledge in these areas and help to make these professionals compatible to current engineering know-how, thereby emphasizing the importance of in-service training.

Teaching and training of PHE/EE in India needs structural corrections. The teaching and training should be multi disciplinary. Except AIIH&PH, Kolkata no other institute is providing a comprehensive training including core domains of public health as well as engineering discipline. The institutes should train the engineers in such a manner that they acquire an understanding of the basics of epidemiology and its application in environmental health; have knowledge of the public health engineering principles which have been developed for protection against biological and chemical threats; have knowledge about the major communicable diseases that plague humankind, the organisms that cause them, the way they are transmitted and the methods that are used to control them; and know control methods and technologies. All of these could be possible through institutional collaboration of engineering institutes with schools of public health and medical colleges. The training of public health engineers or environmental engineers only in engineering domain is not sufficient. There is a need to adapt an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach.

Role of medical colleges and public health institutes in imparting training in PHE/EE should also deserve discussion. Though students of medical colleges and public health schools have opportunity to study environmental health, it only deals with the basic aspects of environmental science like air, water and soil pollution, toxicology etc. There is no emphasis on training them in applications of engineering science in solving the environmental health issues. The practical training of these participants in PHE/EE is also very limited. It is important for public health schools to explore opportunities for developing MPH programs with specialization in public health engineering.

There are several career opportunities for the students acquiring diplomas, bachelors or masters degrees in PHE/EE. The diploma holders get their placements as junior engineers in various central and state government run public health engineering departments like sewage treatment and water treatment plants; urban development and town planning, pollution control board, irrigation department etc. They are also eligible for bachelor course in the concerned stream and get direct entry into second year of the course. Job prospects for professionals with qualification in environmental engineering are bright in research centers, NGOs and various governmental departments working towards green development. Moreover, opportunities in environmental engineering have increased in last couple of decades and the professionals are recruited by industries working in chemical, geological, petroleum and mining sectors. Candidates with post-graduate qualification in environmental engineering have opportunities to work for government built assessment committees which study and analyze the environmental risks involved in various projects. They can contribute a lot through advanced environmental research.

A rapid growth in environment pollution will require environmental engineers in large numbers so that the same can be mitigated effectively. Most of the demand in environmental engineering is coming owing to population growth, diminishing resources and risky exploitation of natural resources. Various state governments, mineral extracting companies and NGOs are looking to hire more environmental engineers so that public health problems can be solved. Moreover, more number of environmental engineers will be required to have sustainable development, environmental regulations etc. Even some of the positions meant for these professionals in many government and private organizations are filled up by the civil engineers with limited competence in public health engineering. Presently the public health system in this country does not have the positions for public health engineers. Considering the critical role these professionals can play in improving the public health of the country, it is important to create appropriate job opportunities for these professionals in the country's public health system.

 
   References Top

1.Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India. Report of the Expert Committee on Public Health System, 1996.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.National Urban Sanitation Policy. Ministry of Urban Development. Government of India. 2008. Available from: http://www.urbanindia.nic.in/programme/uwss/NUSP.pdf [accessed on July 12, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.World Health Organization. Country profiles of environmental burden of disease. Available from: http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/national/countryprofile/india.pdf [accessed on June 25, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.World Bank. Environmental Health in India. Priorities in Andhra Pradesh. Environment and Social Development Unit. South Asia Region. October 2001. Available from: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INDIAEXTN/Resources/Reports-Publications/APHealth.pdf [accessed on July 12, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Pune. Available from: http://www.neeri.res.in/aboutus.php. [accessed on July 15, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.Zodpey SP, Negandhi H, Tiwari RR. Mapping 'Occupational Health' courses in India: A systematic review. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2009;13:135-40.  Back to cited text no. 6
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7.Central Public Health & Environmental Engineering Organisation. Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. (cited) Available from: http://cpheeo.nic.in/ [accessed on July 24, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.Annual Report (2010-11). Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. Available from: http://www.urbanindia.nic.in/quickaccess/ann_report/2010_2011/AR2010-11_English.pdf [accessed on July 12, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. Available from: http://www.urbanindia.nic.in/programme/uwss/phe_training.pdf [accessed on July 12, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.National Urban Sanitation Policy. Ministry of Urban Development. Government of India; 2008. Available from: http://www.urbanindia.nic.in/programme/uwss/NUSP.pdf [accessed on June 24, 2011].   Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.Gupta M D, Desikachari B R, Shukla R, Somnathan T V, Padmanaban P, Datta K K.. How Might India's Public Health Systems be Strengthened? Lessons from Tamil Nadu. Economic & Political Weekly, March 6, 2010; Vol XLV No. 10: 46-60.  Back to cited text no. 11
    



 
 
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