News / Health

Urbanization Puts Public Health at Growing Risk

Policymakers, health care professionals from the world's cities confer in New York

Health risks associated with 21st century city living include overcrowding, poor air quality, indoor air pollution, respiratory problems, high population  density, dampness and the simple lack of water and sanitation.
Health risks associated with 21st century city living include overcrowding, poor air quality, indoor air pollution, respiratory problems, high population density, dampness and the simple lack of water and sanitation.

Multimedia

Audio

Public health is at growing risk from urban conditions such as pollution, noise, overcrowding and stress, according to experts who met in New York for the Ninth International Conference on Urban Health.   

More than half of the world's population lives in cities today, and the United Nations predicts that number will rise to 70 percent by 2050.  

Urban health challenges

Health researchers, practitioners, policymakers and academics from 45 countries came to the New York Academy of Medicine to discuss a wide and growing array of urban health challenges. The issues included cholera treatment in Port au Prince, Haiti, condom distribution for sex workers in Bangladesh, pedestrian traffic fatalities in Nairobi, Kenya, and research into the relationship between illicit drug control policies and public health in New York City.  

Experts at the conference agreed that the health risks associated with 21st century city living are many and complex, but often include overcrowding, poor air quality, indoor air pollution, the use of fuels that cause respiratory problems, high population  density, dampness and the simple lack of water and sanitation.

"In many areas, there are still communal standpipes, latrines that literally hundreds of families have to share," said Trudy Harpham of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Sometimes no latrines and there is open defecation in some of these areas. So housing and health are a big issue."

The relationship between health, housing and other urban issues is a pressing concern in the United States as well, where 85 percent of the population now lives in cities, according to Adolfo Carrion, a senior administrator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

Money matters

"When you go to the challenges of trash management, of traffic management, of health care delivery systems, of access to jobs of economic opportunity, the quality, when you think of noise levels and pollution levels, we have to deal with all those issues," said Carrion.   

A key to promoting urban health is encouraging preventive health care with recommendations for proper diet and exercise routines, for example. Still, many of New York's poorest residents cannot readily act on those recommendations.  

"You can give people information about how to live healthy lives," said New York Academy of Medicine President Dr. Jo Ivey Bufford, "but if they can't buy the green vegetables, if they can't exercise because the streets aren't safe, they can't act on the information. That's the kind of environmental issue that's very important for us."

Indeed, in many cities in both the developed and the developing worlds, access to quality health care varies widely between the rich and the poor. Danielle Ompad, an epidemiologist with the New York Academy of Medicine, said that the homeless, substance abusers, and undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable. Ompad often imagines what it is like for such people to get a simple flu vaccination.

"You need to have sick leave, or you need to take off work. And we know that a lot of people who live in poverty have multiple jobs that often don't have sick leave or vacation leave. So often they are going to lose money by trying to take off work for preventative health care."

Grassroots approach

Urban Americans mostly rely on hospitals and clinics for their basic medical care. That is not so in many parts of the developing world, where druggists, for example, often prescribe and dispense prescription medications.  This grassroots approach is a key part of the Indian government's tuberculosis eradication program.  

Dr. Aparna Srikantam of LepraIndia, an NGO that partners with the Indian government, was at the conference to tout its so-called DOTS program, which screens for TB, provides TB medicine when needed, and allows people in the patient's personal circle to follow up.  

"Any person can be a DOT provider and need not be a doctor," said Srikantam. "A grocery shop owner or a priest or any person can hold the drugs with them and see that the patient takes the entire treatment so that adequacy will be maintained." She added that each effective DOTS intervention means that as many as 15 other TB transmissions can be prevented.  

Trudy Harpham of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, believes that such partnerships between centralized authorities and grassroots health care providers will be the key to future advances in urban medicine."It has to be a two-way thing," said Harpham. "Communities have to have the power and the confidence to speak up about their needs and government has to listen."  

It's a dialogue that promises to become increasingly urgent, as migration to the planet's urban centers continues to accelerate in the years ahead.  

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid