Work and Health in Southern Africa (WAHSA)

* * WAHSA closed its operations on 31 March 2009 * *

This is an initiative of the National Institute of Working Life (NIWL) in Sweden. A programme that had been several years in the making, was launched in Gaborone,

Botswana in October 2004 with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency. WAHSA is a regional initiative in occupational health and safety, and was developed by the South African National Institution for Occupational Health (NIOH) and the Swedish National Institutes for Working Life (SNIWL) and Public Health (SNIPH) in co-operation with SADC. WAHSA is in the second year of its first 4 year phase, of which there will be three. Its primary aim is to contribute to the eradication of poverty in Southern Africa through the promotion of healthy work.

The involvement of the DOEH in the planning of this programme started in about 2000, when SADC requested the Director of the National Centre of Occupational Health and Prof. Rajen Naidoo, to develop a proposal to be submitted to SIDA. Since then, the Department’s role has expanded, with Dr Amanda Ryan and Professor Rajen Naidoo sharing the Regional Programme Director responsibilities for the first four years (Phase 1) of this proposed 12 year project. The long-term goals of this Programme are to contribute to the reduction of poverty and promotion of human rights and the empowerment of the region’s workers. The Work & Health Programme is able to contribute to these goals through:  

  • Improving economic performance. Occupational health promotes productivity and the competetiveness of enterprises and reduces poverty of injured workers and their families. ”Health is wealth” is clearly understandable in this context.
  • Stabilisation of society is enhanced by reducing the pool of marginalized and disaffected injured and diseased workers; by promoting fairness and equity in society; by giving effect to provisions of national constitutions and statutes.
  • Improved general health is promoted by integrating health promoting activities into occupational health services. An accessible population is available for example for smoking reduction and HIV prevention actions.
  • Environmental considerations are taken by programmes that reduce workplace pollutants, manage waste products and reduce the inappropriate use of agricultural chemicals.
  • Capacity to effect change is strengthened through advocacy and improved knowledge and skills of the social partners.


These objectives are attained through one of 9 sub-projects spread across 8 Southern African countries. These projects either address a specific occupational health problem in the region (eg. TB and silicosis associated with silica exposure; health outcomes associated with pesticides exposure and health effects within the informal sector), or aim at the collection of information which will allow a better characterisation of health at work. This information will provide the basis for deciding the specific projects in Phase II, and particularly the necessary interventions to overcome these problems.

In addition to playing the lead role in the overall programme management, the COEH is one of the focal points of the informal sector project. COEH partners with the Tanzanian Occupational Health Services in addressing occupational health problems in the informal sector, with Professor Rajen Naidoo working with colleagues from Tanzania and Mozambique in addressing these issues.

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