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.



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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs