SEARCH II project concludes with impressive, effective results
What started during a side event at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Parma, Italy, in 2010 has become a brilliant success story. The SEARCH initiative, carried out in two phases over a period of seven years, fulfilled and even exceeded initial expectations.
The SEARCH project was developed to facilitate collective decision-making processes for adopting new plans and policies aimed at reducing health risks in targeted areas. Furthermore, the project integrated an energy-saving component that required participants to absorb new knowledge, take on fresh perspectives and assign new priorities.
Cooperation on health and the environment between the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea (IMELS) and the REC began in 2003 and the pilot project Cleaner Environment, Better Future for Our Children was the first activity jointly implemented by the two organisations. The success of this pilot project motivated further international research into indoor air quality and children's health.
The first phase of the SEARCH initiative, SEARCH I, lasted from 2006 to 2009, and the project operated within two international frameworks: the EU Action Plan on Environment and Health, as well as the Children's Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE) of the World Health Organization Europe. In addition, the SEARCH initiative contributes to the Budapest and Parma Declarations of WHO Europe in 10 countries, and to the implementation of the CEHAPE Regional Priority Goal 3 on air quality and children's health. Given its successful implementation and promising outcomes, project stakeholders and affiliated experts requested a follow-up phase to continue valuable research activities. SEARCH II, the successor phase, began in 2010 and concluded in 2013. With its final outcomes, SEARCH II made tangible progress towards an overall project evaluation that is already being integrated into established European environment and health processes.
SEARCH II not only complemented its predecessor by extending the project's thematic orientation, but also by expanding its geographical scope to an additional four countries. In addition to enabling the free exchange of information throughout a wider area, good practices from Italy were also introduced and put into motion in a pan-European context, including selected countries in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. Bearing these successes in mind, the continuation of shared knowledge and good practices developed and promoted within the SEARCH project will bring added value for Italy as a donor country, and for all involved partners.
While its initial and primary focus has been on indoor air quality in schools, the SEARCH II project involved knowledge transfer from previous related efforts, and from other countries and regions. This has resulted in a fruitful combination of participants and experts from a wide range of professional backgrounds.
Each partner joined their respective SEARCH II group with different needs, expectations and questions to be asked and answered. Every country participating in SEARCH II has a different understanding and different needs regarding indoor air quality in schools, and each takes its own technical approach towards finding solutions.
Despite significant challenges to overcome in the course of the project, there was a shared willingness to act in the best interests of society's most vulnerable group: children. Reinforcing this concern for children was a common interest in promoting healthier school environments.
"We are extremely proud of the achievements and impact of the SEARCH initiative," said Stefania Romano, director of the Italian Trust Fund and senior expert at IMELS. "By purposefully targeting children, one of the most vulnerable and exposed groups when it comes to potentially harmful environments, and by involving over 100 schools across 10 countries during SEARCH II, we have actively helped to raise the awareness of children, parents and school personnel about the important, positive effects of growing up in healthy environments. We have also identified shortcomings and challenges and put forward feasible improvement measures for stakeholder consideration."
From February 2011, the SEARCH II team was committed to exploring the prevalence of asthma among schoolchildren, as well as the effects of poor indoor air quality on children's ability to concentrate and study. Determined to fill knowledge gaps and produce evidence, the project team carried out field studies, gathered information and accumulated a vast array of data that was published in the SEARCH II's final recommendations and guidelines. These outputs can now be used to help shape future policies for the benefit of European schoolchildren's health for many years to come.
"The empowerment of young generations is the cornerstone to safeguarding our future. Children spur reflection and help to shape the attitudes of peers, parents and elders alike", Romano concluded. "Children are the future, and thanks to the steadfast commitment of all those involved in the SEARCH initiative, we have indeed fulfilled our share of responsibility to ensure they grow up in as healthy an environment as possible."
SEARCH II in numbers
Children assessed during SEARCH I and SEARCH II: 7,860
Children assessed during SEARCH II: 6,758
Schools worked with: 101
International experts involved: 55
Countries involved: 10 (6 EU candidate countries, 4 countries in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia)
Project implementation period: 37 months (5 months for field activities; 10 months for data analysis)
Please click here to read more about the SEARCH project.