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Whenever a major project is set for the implementation in a given area, stakeholders only consider matters such as employment, the physical environment, housing, and the effect on the social cohesion. The health of the population is rarely taken into consideration. The services of health practitioners are enlisted when things have become awry and damage has already been occasioned to the population. Therefore, it is imperative that when making important decisions concerning a major project such as the construction of a waste management facility in a neighborhood, the effects on the population’s health should be an important factor to consider. Such consideration takes place via a health impact assessment (HIA). This paper provides an overview of the HIA including the stages involved in developing one. It also addresses the nature of information required and recommendations that would be made with respect to the proposed health impact assessment of the construction of a waste management facility.
Overview and Description of the HIA
Quigley et al. (2006) define the HIA as a systematic procedure that utilizes a broad range of data sources and analytic techniques and takes into consideration the input of various stakeholders to establish the possible impacts of a proposed plan, policy, or project on the health of a particular populace. The involvement of stakeholders is the key ingredient of the HIA and should be considered as critical to it. Stakeholders, in this case, refer to project initiators, financiers, authorities, implementers, and individuals in the surrounding communities. Therefore, the primary role of this exercise is to examine whether a proposed course of action will have adverse effects on the health of a particular community and to provide recommendations based on the results of the assessment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016) lists a series of five stages that should be followed in conducting a credible HIA. The first step of the HIA process is screening. At this stage, the pertinent question asked is whether the HIA is necessary. If the answer the no, then there is a little point in carrying out the HIA. However, if the answer is yes, one can proceed to the next stage. The second phase is known as scoping. There is a wide range of health effects to consider and this stage identifies which ones the exercise will consider. Thirdly, the assessors evaluate the risks and benefits of the projects. This stage isolates the persons who might be impacted by the project and analyzes various ways in which they might be affected (Health Resources in Action, n.d.). After the assessment, the next stage is decision making. Based on the results of the previous stage, a decision is made as to whether to proceed with the project or shelve it depending on how the experts conclude that it will affect individuals. The last stage is the implementation and monitoring of the project regarding the guidelines provided by the HIA report.
There are numerous kinds of impact assessments because a project affects different facets of the society. Environmental, community health, health risk, cost-benefit, and public health impact assessments are other types of impact assessments besides the HIA. They help to evaluate the effects of the proposed project, in this case, the development of the waste management facility, in diverse areas of the society. However, the HIA differs from other types of impact assessments in the sense that its main intention is to inform discussions on a particular proposal. It is also different from other health assessment tools as it systematically evaluates various factors that might have an impact on health, including economic factors, social factors, and changes in the environment. Lastly, the HIA differs from other impact assessments because it adopts a broad definition of health to include both the physical and mental health, as well as the overall well-being of the individual (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
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To conduct successfully the HIA on the proposed construction of the waste management facility, the health assessors need information from various quarters. They first need to know more information about the project. It includes the data on the proposed location of the facility, the nature of wastes that will be accepted at the facility, the procedures that will be used in the recycling or processing of the waste in the facility, and the measures that will be put in place to prevent water and environmental pollution.
It is also necessary to know social and demographic factors of the community to understand the potential health effects of the proposed project. This information is significant because it enables the decision makers to identify the group of people in the community who are likely to face any risks because of the project. Some of the types of social-demographic information to consider include the population size of the community that is likely to face health risks, geographical aspects of the area in question, the economic status of the community, and even the infrastructure of the local area. It is also advisable to assess the social and family ties, especially where the project will require the resettlement and migration of some of the population that might be at risk. The decision maker can find such information in government records, project development organizations, or economic assessors.
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The project assessors should also establish the health status of the community by determining the major causes of diseases in the community and the morbidity and mortality rates of such illnesses. This information is important because it informs the project managers about the health needs of the community. The information should specifically assess the mortality rate among the most vulnerable groups such as the employees of the waste management project, children, and the elderly. Thus, such information can help the project managers to find recommendations on how to mitigate potential negative health effects of the project.
One of the recommended ways of promoting positive health effects is working closely with health care professionals within the community to implement the project (McClellan & Signal, 2009). This recommendation can guarantee positive results since health care specialists have knowledge about the best way to prevent and control certain potential health risks. They also have the skills required to assist in the process of creating awareness among members of the community. It also implies that the project should involve the entire community in the waste management process to promote positive results. The community can help in the waste management process by learning how to collect, recycle, and minimize some household waste products. Performing a community-centered waste management education initiative can also help the project. Such an initiative will entail getting some of the most influential members of the local community to talk to the community and personalizing the advantages that result from the process of waste management. Adopting a school curriculum that educates children about the importance of waste management can also boost the positive outcomes of the project. This strategy can yield excellent results, especially when it conforms to the aims and objectives of the waste management project.
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The project managers can mitigate the adverse health effects by segregating affected patients, especially if the health condition affecting the community is highly communicable. This recommended move will require the collaboration between health care professionals, managers of the waste management project, as well as the community. When the potential health effects are serious and might cause fatal diseases such as cancer, then it is advisable to resettle the community in safer areas. This strategy is good, especially for the sake of young children, adolescents, and the elderly who are likely to suffer the most. In addition, it is essential to implement a project whose aim is to minimize the quantity of waste products released into the environment to the lowest possible levels. Although it is difficult to reduce the number of waste products to zero, minimizing the quantity can reduce the adverse health effects significantly.
This paper comprehensively describes the procedure followed in the conduct of the HIA. It outlines the information needed to evaluate the effects of the proposed project on the population’s health. The information is helpful to decision makers such as the HIA experts because it assists them in determining whether the waste management project is viable and safe for the community. Health care institutions and professionals can also use the information to assess the health status of the community and establish ways of preventing, reducing, or controlling all health risks that might arise as a consequence of implementing the project. The information is also helpful to the local authorities because it helps them to decide whether it is viable to invest funds in promoting the project or not. Furthermore, public health organizations and the local government can use the information for purposes of keeping a record of the health issues that affect the community. Keeping a record of the information can help during research projects in institutions of higher learning or research institutions. Other decision makers who can benefit from the information include community-based agencies, business people, and advocacy groups.