30 November 2007

Environmental Sensitivities: Another vulnerable group for HIA to consider?

The old adage, 'one man's meat is another man's poison' succinctly captures the differing ways that we all can react to environmental factors. For instance, people with blue eyes, red hair, freckles and pale skin tend to be sensitive to sunshine, burning more readily than the rest of us.

Though sunburn is not nice, it's generally temporary, but some people have crippling reactions to such things as household chemicals e.g. air fresheners and detergents; the chemicals used to make furnishings fire retardant; and electromagnetic radiation from electricity generation and distribution.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has commissioned a new report, The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities by Margaret E. Sears to look into his area and provide guidance on what can be done about it.

The report summarises the current scientific information on environmental sensitivities. It states that around 3% of Canadians have been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities, and many more are somewhat sensitive to traces of chemicals and/or electromagnetic phenomena in the environment. People experience a range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms with the avoidance of triggers being the key step in both regaining and maintaining health and wellbeing.

The report addresses issues such as the definition and prevalence of environmental sensitivities; recognition by medical authorities; education and training within the medical community; origins, triggers and symptoms of sensitivities; impact of environmental sensitivities in the workplace; government policies and standards for building codes, air quality and ventilation as they affect individuals with environmental sensitivities; and guidelines for accommodation within the workplace.

It also says that for people with environmental sensitivities, their health and ability to work rests with the actions of others, including building managers, co-workers and clients. Accommodating people with environmental sensitivities presents an opportunity to improve workplace environmental quality and workers’ performance, and may help prevent the onset of sensitivities in others.

For those interested in the original scientific and technical literature, an annotated bibliography is available on request from environmentalhealthmed@gmail.com.

In relation to HIA, it raises an interesting question for HIA practice. Should environmentally-sensitive individuals be considered a distinct vulnerable group in HIAs, one that is routinely considered?

Personally, while I do consider this issue, especially where it relates to EMG fields, I do not consider it formally and more importantly do not tend to suggest mitigation and enhancement measures routinely to ensure that environmental-sensitivity is not exacerbated or generated in development projects that I work on. Partly this is because I haven't researched them, and they haven't come to my attention, and secondly, arguably more importantly, the issues seems to affect so few people and seems so esoteric in the context of poverty, run-down urban environments and widening social and health inequalities that it doesn't merit more than a line or two if that.

However it could be that they are the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine', sentinel individuals who are highlighting a potentially wider problem that is affecting all of us to some extent though not enough for us to have actual physical symptoms.

I'm personally not sure how to handle this issue and would love to know what other people think, have you down a HIA where this was or became an issue?...

23 November 2007

HIA2008 Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The HIA2008 South East Asia and Oceania Health Impact Assessment Conference will be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 8-10 December 2008. The conference is being hosted by the Thai National Health Commission.

To find out more go to the conference website.

HIA2007 Conference Photos

Welcome to Country 04 Plenary - Wiput Phoolcharoen 05 Plenary - Richard Morgan 01 Plenary - Andrew Gilman 11 Plenary Chair - Margaret Earle 01 Plenary - Narongsakdi Aungkasuvapala 02 Official Opening - Minister Verity Firth 02 Plenary - Decharut Sukkumnoed 01 Afternoon Break

Photos from the conference are available from www.flickr.com/groups/hia2007 (you can upload your own photos there as well). For more on the conference go to www.hia2007.com.

HIA2007 Conference: Plenary presentations, audio files and photos now online

The South East Asia and Oceania Regional Health Impact Assessment Conference was held in Sydney, Australia from 7-9 November 2007. The event was a success, with more than 180 HIA practitioners from across the Asia Pacific region coming together for the first time.

Conference Presentations
Conference plenary presentations are now available on the conference website (www.hia2007.com). Both slides and audio files are available.

Asia Pacific HIA Email List
An email list has been established to facilitate HIA practitioner exchange across the Asia Pacific. To subscribe send an email to majordomo@explode.unsw.edu.au with "subscribe hia-seao"as the body of the email. More information on the listserv is available here.

21 November 2007

Scoring communities on health and wellbeing

We have GDP and GNP and other economic scores we also have SMRs that provide death and illness statistics at a community level but we don't have health and wellbeing scores and their respective scoring systems. The New Economic Foundation has a happiness index which is quite cool that works at national level, they have a report the Happy Planet Index: an index of human wellbeing and environmental impact but that doesn't work yet for local neighbourhoods.

There 8 Point Wellbeing Manifesto says:

  • Reclaim time: we systematically over-estimate the amount of happiness extra income will bring us and work too many hours to get it.
  • Ban advertising to children: young children can’t distinguish between facts and selling messages. The culture of materialism is not only bad for the environment, it also undermines our well-being.
  • Invest in our future: the under threes and parenting. Extend parental leave to cover at least the first two years, and provide high-quality childcare and active parental support. Investment in the ‘zero to threes’ repays itself many times over in health, education and social benefits.
  • Teach well-being: promote well-being and curiosity in schools, not performance against targets, with more sports, arts, creativity, and other engaging activities. Young people should be given the tools to make their own good life choices.
  • Create a Citizen’s Service’ - like a jury service for volunteering, citizen’s panels etc. - and more opportunities for young people to engage in the community and politics
  • Measure what really matters to people: create a set of national well-being accounts to assess levels of satisfaction, depression, meaning and stress to be able to track changes over time, integrate services and allocate funds more effectively and efficiently.
  • Tax environmental “bads”, such as fossil fuels, not goods, such as high-quality work.
  • Introduce a universal Citizen’s Income: this would redistribute to the poorest - a pound in the pocket of the poor is worth more in well-being terms than a pound to a rich person - end the “benefits trap” and help people reclaim their time.
So what do you think? Is happiness the same as wellbeing? Are they linked? If yes, how so? And what do you think of NEF's Wellbeing Manifesto?

2 November 2007

Talking Back To Grownups: Healthy Children, Healthy Communities –
a report on the social determinants of health and middle childhood in Canada

the Healthy Children, Healthy Communities (HC2) project engages Canadians (including children) in learning about and raising awareness of the social factors that affect the health of kids aged 9-12 years old. HC2 envisions a Canada in which children’s health is a national priority and children themselves are engaged in understanding and influencing their own well-being.

Through community roundtables and a Child Health Perceptions Survey, children (aged 9-12) and people interested in child health exchange ideas and perceptions about social factors that impact health, including:

  • income
  • housing
  • social supports
  • racism
  • education
  • gender
  • the environment

Participants of the Healthy Children, Healthy Communities project create plans to improve children's health and to bring their priorities to decision makers in schools, communities and governments. All levels of government are included, be they municipal, provincial, territorial, national, and international. The Healthy Children, Healthy Communities project has four objectives:
  1. To identify child health PERCEPTIONS and PRIORITIES across Canada from the voices of children themselves, child health stakeholders and Canadians at large.
  2. To exchange knowledge on the IMPACTS of SOCIAL FACTORS on children's health in diverse communities across Canada.
  3. To develop MEASUREABLE and ACTIONABLE RECOMMENDATIONS for community development, provincial and national policy, and to bring these findings to the global community.
  4. To ENGAGE and EMPOWER children to speak out, share their ideas, and take action on their own health priorities from a social determinants of health perspective.
Project Outcomes include:
  • An expanded understanding of middle childhood health across Canada, which will emphasize the need to address underlying societal structures. Using prevention and health promotion principles, we will truly improve the health of communities.
  • A Child and Youth Network, in partnership with other youth-serving organizations, will sustain the momentum and energy of the project.
  • A Child Health Action Manual will highlight the creative actions developed by children across Canada, and will serve as a formal or informal curriculum tool for peer-to-peer education.
  • Measurable and Actionable Programme Recommendations will be brought forward to decision makers across Canada (e.g. schools, communities, governments).
  • Recommendations, which will be included in Canada's 2009 Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2009.
Link http://www.unac.org/hchc/en/about/index.php