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World Health Day centres on cities

Today on World Health Day, the focus shifts to improving health among the poor living in growing cities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a major campaign to fight what it says is a triple threat to health in cities, home to more than half the world's population.The number of people living in cities reached 3.0 billion in 2007 – which for the first time is more than the number living in the countryside, according to the United Nations. By 2030, 60 per cent of the world's growing population is expected to live in cities.

Now is an important tipping point for world health, said the WHO’s Lori Sloate. Cities are home to a "triple threat" to health, she told Agence France Presse news agency. "Infectious diseases are one, particularly in places where there's lack of water and sanitation," she explained. Stressful city lifestyles fuelled by fast food, smoking and drinking  also foster chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancers and heart problems in crowded cities, she said."This can be exacerbated by the lack of physical activity for example, by increased respiratory problems through air pollution," said Sloate.
"Then finally the third is also linked more specifically to the cities in the sense that they're concentrated there: it can be violence, crime, road traffic and injuries." And with an estimated 830 million people living in shanty towns, according to the UN's HABITAT agency, the health challenge is even harder to crack.

The global campaign with the theme ‘1000 cities, 1000 lives’ will run until 11 April and will look at how the urban environment affects health. It aims to encourage cities to "open up public spaces to health", through clean-up campaigns and closing off  parts streets to traffic,    get people to exercise in parks more."Cities concentrate threats to health such as inadequate sanitation and refuse collection, pollution, road traffic accidents, outbreaks of infectious diseases and also unhealthy lifestyles,” said WHO Director General, Dr Margaret Chan.Some of the most common health problems linked to city living are chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/Aids and even violence. The WHO says increasing access to social and health services and fairer ways of spreading money and educational opportunities are solutions. "The most obvious factor is inequality,” Warwick University social scientist Nigel Thrift told CNN news channel. “Any way you look at it, poor health is intimately correlated with inequality. Poverty is the real killer."

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children