Representatives from African cities met on 8 November to boost actions to tackle environment issues affecting human health, such as air pollution, water quality and sanitation, and to build healthy, wealthy, and sustainable future urban centres.
Around 500 million people live in Africa's cities, with numbers rising rapidly each year. The continent's rapid and unplanned urbanization brings huge opportunities, but poses significant risks to health through pollution, over-crowding and unplanned growth that does not consider the environment.
"Africa's cities are booming, and how we manage that economic and population growth today will have a huge impact on the health and economic viability of entire countries far into the future," said Dr Suvajee Good, Programme Manager for health promotion and determinants of health, World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.
Worldwide, over 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to polluted air, which causes seven million deaths each year and costs billions in healthcare and lost productivity. Nearly one million people in Africa die from air pollution every year.
People breathe polluted air outdoors, from vehicle exhaust, energy and power generation, solid waste burning, agriculture, power plant and factory emissions, and indoors, from cooking, heating and lighting. However, other major health risks for city dwellers include traffic injuries, noise stressors, sanitation risks and barriers to physical activity.
Accra, Ghana's two million strong and rapidly growing capital, was recently named as one of the world's most polluted cities with pollution index as high as 97.1. But through pioneering new policies, the city is working to swiftly shed that mantle.
The Urban Health Initiative, led by Ghana Health Services with WHO support, trains Ghanaian experts to assess the impact of air pollution and to plan healthier approaches to the city's growth and development.
The initiative aims to integrate health concerns into urban policymaking and planning, test and evaluate the impact of new health-inclusive policies and communicate key messages around health, the environment and development to boost impact.
Other initiatives include efforts to clean up waste, stop waste burning, improve road safety , expand green spaces across the city and improve air quality by working with the health, transport, waste and energy sectors.
"To tackle the dangers of pollution and make the best of Africa's growing cities, urban planning must be considered a public health matter, and health issues must be an indicator for urban development," concludes Dr Good. "The healthy, wealthy and sustainable cities of the future are those that take concrete actions to roll back pollution, limit environmental degradation and invest in the health and well-being of their citizens today.
Urban poor are the most affected by the indoor and outdoor air pollution, exposed to toxic wastes, and unlikely to be able to access health and social services. Engagement with municipality mayors and governors is critical to achieve health for all, universal health coverage, and sustainable development."
The meeting took place alongside the Third Inter-Ministerial Conference on health and the environment, which is taking place in Libreville to push forward actions to boost health and environmental protection.