01.11.2010 At first hand
Editorial Ursula Ulrich. «Now’s not the time to be thinking of that – we’ve got to save money!» This was the answer I received from a health minister in the late 1990s when I asked whether the government had considered the effects that reducing the number of gym and sports lessons at high school would have on the health of young people then and in the future.
It was the fact that no thought had been given to the effects of a cost-cutting decision on public health that persuaded me to actively support the institutionalisation of health impact assessments (HIA) at the federal level. Many years have passed since then and even more papers have had to be written on the subject, but there is now a corresponding article in the draft Law on Prevention and Health Promotion, and with any luck the Federal Council will soon have a tool at its disposal that enables it to commission a health impact assessment of projects that are particularly far-reaching in scope.
But HIAs are not the only impact assessments at the federal level. Besides impacts on health, there are also the economic, financial, ecological, energy-related, environmentally relevant and international effects of any planned action to be taken into account and, last but not least, the sustainability of such action has to be assessed.
There is a danger that these tools will be used in competition with one another. However, international studies and experience gained in the cantons and at federal level show that a differentiated approach to using the various forms of impact assessment is possible and worthwhile, whether it’s about improving the quality of a political decision or routing of traffic in a neighbourhood to benefit both public health and the environment.
In my vision, we shall analyse particularly far-reaching projects and proposals in Switzerland pragmatically for different impacts and, where appropriate, conduct a more in-depth investigation, whether in the form of a sustainability assessment, an integrated impact assessment or in some other form.
Joint Head of the Multisectoral Projects Division
Federal Office of Public Health