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World Health Day commemorated

Apr 8, 2010, 1:36 PM

As the world commemorate this year's World Health Day yesterday Wednesday 7th April, the World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa Dr Louis Sambo has drawn the world's attention to the public health hazards posed by urbanization and how they could be addressed in countries of the African Region.

Below is the full text of Dr Sambo's message:

Today, as we commemorate World Health Day, under the theme Urbanization and Health, I would like to take the opportunity to draw attention to the public health hazards posed by urbanization and how they could be addressed in countries of the African Region.

Cities provide great opportunities for the prosperity of individuals and families. At the same time, the majority of urban dwellers live in conditions that expose them to extreme hazards affecting both their quality of life and their life expectancy. Indeed, in many countries of the African Region, urbanization has gained a momentum outpacing the ability of governments to provide the infrastructure needed to make life in urban areas, safe and healthy.

It is estimated that almost half the urban population in Africa suffer from at least one disease attributable to lack of safe water and adequate sanitation. Each year, no less than sixty (60) cities report an outbreak of cholera.

Governments face the daunting challenge of ensuring that essential services such as health care, water supply, housing and solid waste management are adequate to meet the growing needs of the populations. This is further compounded by the rapid growth and spread of slums in many cities. Overcrowding and the overall quality of housing in these slums where the majority of people live are cause for deep concern.

People living in poverty in unplanned urban areas suffer disproportionately from a wide range of diseases. Unhealthy diet and physical inactivity among poverty-stricken urban dwellers contribute to increased risk of non-communicable health conditions such as obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

We should always remember that health is a human right and its determinants can be positively influenced. Carefully planned urban growth can promote constructive population development and contribute to improved health status. It is the role and responsibility of individuals, civil society, and governments to uphold this principle.

Investing in active transport; promoting healthy diet, food safety, urban planning and physical activity; enforcing regulatory controls on tobacco; improving living and working conditions including housing, water supply and sanitation; and providing amenities and services that promote recreation will go a long way to mitigate health risks in cities.

Crucially, the public in general, and the urban population in particular, should adopt healthier lifestyles by undertaking regular physical activity, having a healthy diet and reducing smoking and alcohol consumption.

For its part, WHO will continue to work closely with governments, civil society and development partners to promote the development of policies and actions to achieve sustainable health outcomes in cities.