Kolkata, May 31: People have long migrated to cities in search of opportunities to improve their lives but rising urbanization is putting many cities under pressure to ensure that people’s needs are met and their well-being protected.
Urban life can present many challenges for public health. Cities that do not have effective systems for clean water, sanitation, and waste management, can see spikes in infectious disease such as cholera and diarrhoea.
Cities also face a high burden of noncommunicable diseases linked to social, environmental and behavioural risk factors associated with urban living, such as air pollution, poor diet and a lack of physical activity. Road safety and violence are constant concerns, as are mental health issues.
Health is affected by many interconnected factors that go well beyond access to health services. These include infrastructure issues such as housing, sanitation, transport, energy systems, and the availability of green spaces and parks. They also include access to employment, education, and nutritious food.
With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, overcrowding can be a big issue in cities. Population growth means that by 2050, another 2.5 billion people will be living in cities. This is an opportunity to create cities that protect and promote health through their design, policies and programmes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working to improve health in cities for decades and has several key initiatives. As well as the WHO Healthy Cities Network, which takes a holistic approach to urban health, many different networks and initiatives support cities to work on specific topics. These include the Partnership for Healthy Cities, which focuses on preventing noncommunicable diseases and injuries, the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, and the Urban Health Initiative, which focuses on climate and air quality.
Age-friendly cities are key to enabling people to live longer and healthier lives while fostering more productive societies. Age-friendly cities anticipate and respond flexibly to changing needs in older age for accessible housing, urban spaces, public transport, health and social support.
The world is rapidly ageing and the number of older people (aged 60 or over) is growing faster than all other age groups. Numbers of older people is expected to rise from 962 million to more than double (2.1 billion) by 2050 and to more than triple (3.1 billion) by 2100.
Most of today’s adults and children will be ageing in cities. Adapting city structures to the needs of a growing older population is preparation to meet the challenges of demographic change.
The WHO Healthy Cities Network aims to place health high on the agendas of policymakers and to promote comprehensive local strategies to protect health and encourage sustainable development. The WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities is composed of nearly 800 cities and communities in 40 countries, and was established to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide, so that they meet the needs of their older residents.
WHO’s Urban Health Initiative focuses on air quality, emissions and climate, and aims to support cities to have the data, tools, capacity and processes to factor health into their development policies.