Ten Cities, Four Continents: Major New Global Urban Health Project Launches

November 8, 2018

The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) is part of a major new research partnership that has been set up with a grant from Wellcome. The research aims to understand how we can transform cities around the world to equitably support healthier lives, while also protecting the planet.

Coordinated from London, but with a network of expert scientists and practitioners across four continents, the partnership comprises two integrated urban health projects distributed across ten cities. Their aim is to provide the evidence needed to help policy makers and governments take actions to improve the health of their populations and the planet, in a way that minimizes health inequality.

One of the projects, Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH), is a four-year program that will run from 2018 – 2021. It aims to deliver strategically vital research on the complex connections between urban development and health within city systems. It will provide evidence on how to accelerate actions essential to achieving large-scale changes in sectors such as energy, transport, water, sanitation, and housing. The project will embed public engagement, training and co-generation of research throughout its duration.

The CUSSH project team consists of a diverse set of partners, led by the University College London (UCL). Other research partners are the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Buro Happold Engineering and the World Health Organization (WHO). The cities involved in the CUSSH project are: London (UK); Rennes (France); Beijing and Ningbo (China); and, Nairobi and Kisumu (Kenya). The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) will lead the work in the Kenyan cities of Kisumu and Nairobi. The program will partner with the administrative authorities within these two cities to support development and uptake of policy solutions.

“While urbanization is a key driver of economic development, urban spaces concentrate risks for health, particularly for the urban poor” said APHRC’s Dr. Caroline Kabaria, “Nairobi, one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, is home to over 4 million people with a significant number residing in slums and informal settlements. Kisumu is experiencing significant growth in the era of devolution, expanding rapidly into a largely rural surroundings.”

Over half the world’s population now lives in cities, by 2050 this is expected to rise to 70%. Close to 90 per cent of the projected growth in the world’s urban population will occur in Africa and Asia. People who live in cities are on average healthier than those living in rural areas, mainly due to the concentration of economic activity and extensive public services. However, as more and more people are exposed to city life, these services are stretched and stressed, and the urban poor are left behind.

Around the world air pollution contributes to one in five premature deaths, which is increasing in areas undergoing rapid development. Many urban populations do not have adequate access to safe water and sanitation or decent housing, and are vulnerable to infectious disease and natural disasters.

The planet is also affected by urban growth. More people means more waste to manage, more cars and associated emissions, and a greater demand for water, electricity and gas. Researchers want to develop solutions that can benefit people without straining the planet, paving the way for a more sustainable future.

The two projects will be brought together in the London Hub for Urban Health, Sustainability and Equality, creating one of the world’s leading research hubs in this field.  It will combine the research from cities across the world to build up a picture of urban health for most of the world’s populations.

More information:

Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health, led by Prof Michael Davies, UCL

Cities: London (UK), Rennes (France), Beijing and Ningbo (China), Nairobi and Kisumu (Kenya).

  • The programme will deliver vital global research on the complex and integrated systems that connect urban development and health, delivering evidence on how best to accelerate action in cities in areas such as energy, transport, infrastructure, water, sanitation and housing.
  • Research will be used to inform decision-makers and the public about the areas of development that provide the greatest opportunities for health and sustainability.
  • Outcomes will include evidence on how to accelerate action in cities, the development of methods for cities to track progress towards specific health goals and the development of models to assess the impact that alternative urban development strategies have on health and health inequalities, socio-economic development and the environment.