WHO urges correction of health inequities

UN organization tells governments to deal with urban growth.

April 28, 2010 00:45
2 minute read.
Tel Aviv buildings great

Tel Aviv skyline . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

With seven out of 10 people in the world expected to be city dwellers in four decades compared to only four out of 10 in 1980, the UN’s World Health Organization is urging all member governments to plan and take action to reduce health inequities in urban areas.

World Health Day, whose theme was urban health, was held around the world on April 7, but since that fell right after Pessah it was marked here Tuesday. A conference on Healthy Cities was convened in the auditorium of the Knesset to mark the day.

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The conference was organized by Dr. Milka Donchin, national network coordinator of Israel’s Healthy City Network, who is on the faculty of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
She said about 50 cities and local and regional authorities here have officially joined the network and committed themselves to improving the health of their residents.

According to the WHO, the dramatic and rapid rise of people living in cities poses both threats to health and the opportunity to improve health. It is launching a worldwide campaign to highlight urban planning as a crucial link to building a healthy 21st century.

In particular, the UN body calls upon municipal authorities, concerned residents, advocates for healthy living and others to take a close look at health inequities in cities and take action.

While decades ago, rural residents were generally healthier than those who lived in cities, that is no longer the case.

WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said for World Health Day that “in general, urban populations are better off than their rural counterparts. They tend to have greater access to social and health services and their life expectancy is longer.

“But cities can also concentrate threats to health such as inadequate sanitation and refuse collection, pollution, road traffic accidents, outbreaks of infectious diseases and also unhealthy lifestyles.”

Health Ministry public health expert Prof. Alex Leventhal noted that nearly a billion city people live in slums in environments that can harm their health.

Many cities face a triple threat – infectious diseases thrive when people are crowded together, and chronic, noncommunicable diseases including diabetes, cancers and heart disease are on the rise due to unhealthy lifestyles including tobacco use, unhealthful diets, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol. Urban health is often further burdened by road traffic accidents, injuries, violence and crime.

In many cases, rapid population growth outpaces the municipal capacity to build essential infrastructure that make life in cities safe and healthy, leading to the proliferation of informal settlements, said Chan.

Urbanization, both in the developed and particularly in the developing world, is accompanied by a concentration of poverty.

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