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WHO global forum: mayors and national leaders to address urban health, develop action plan

Developing policies to improve the health of city dwellers

News release

In an unprecedented demonstration of global collaboration, city and national leaders from around the world are coming together in Kobe, Japan, to compare approaches and develop policies to improve the health of city dwellers.

Urbanization is a major challenge for public health, with more than half of the world's population now living in urban areas. However, city living also provides great potential for better work, education, social, cultural and other opportunities. With the number of urban residents growing by nearly 60 million people per year, urban planning to reflect broader policies incorporating health is now more vital than ever.

"Building on the opportunities presented by concentrated urban living, city leaders can have a dramatic and positive impact on the health of their societies," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "Providing safe public transport, investing in public utilities, and reducing air pollution by banning smoking in public can lead to a marked improvement in urban public health."

Improved public transportation in Lagos

In Lagos where traffic congestion is rampant, municipal authorities have introduced dedicated bus lanes to reduce traffic time and are capitalizing on waterways for transport alternatives. This has been done by franchising ferry operations and providing infrastructure for the ferries to run but leaving the operation of the ferries to private sector operators, under regulation by the city.

"The Bus Rapid Transit system has been in operation for over three years providing millions of passengers with an affordable, safe, efficient and reliable means of public transportation. It has significantly reduced traffic times, but has also improved the lifestyle of people and consequentially the health care," states Babatunde Raji Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, Nigeria.

Smoke-free environments in Shanghai

In Shanghai, strong efforts have been made to introduce smoke-free environments: in-door smoke control legislation was passed on 1 March 2010; and the recent World Expo held there was largely smoke free by banning smoking in all restaurants and prohibiting tobacco sales and advertising.

Ministers and city leaders from cities as distant as Windhoek, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Shanghai will be exchanging policy ideas and best practice. Leaders and representatives from over 90 countries from around the world will be learning from the example of these cities to see how they can shape policy to enhance rather than damage the health of their populations.

There have been several recent and important commitments from leaders to improve urban living: in Southeast Asia, Health Ministers adopted the declaration of action on urbanization and health 7 September. In the Americas, Health Ministers held a Roundtable on 29 September to discuss the issues and in the Western Pacific, Health Ministers on 15 October declared actions be taken to promote healthy settings in cities and islands.

This Conference and subsequent actions build on these initiatives as well as the approaches and policies discussed. Discussions and highlights are accessible via webstreams with dialogues, interviews, and sessions made available daily.

For more information, please contact:

Lori Sloate
Partnerships and Advocacy
WHO Centre for Health Development
Kobe, Japan
Telephone: +81 78 230 3131
Mobile: +81 80 2435 1864
E-mail: sloatel@wkc.who.int

Iku Tanaka
Media Relations
WHO Centre for Health Development
Kobe, Japan
Telephone: +81 78 230 3112
Mobile: +81 80 2435 1860
E-mail: media_gf@wkc.who.int

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer
WHO Headquarters
Telephone: +41 22 791 3462
Mobile: +41 79 475 5546
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int

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