The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean organized a meeting on scaling up the Healthy City programme in the Region in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, from 23 to 24 February 2016.
The objectives of the meeting were to obtain updates on the status of Healthy City programmes in the Region and identify achievements and challenges, share lessons learnt from the experience of Sharjah, which is the first officially certified Healthy City in the Region, and agree on priority actions for countries to scale up the Healthy City programme. The meeting was attended by 50 participants with pertinent experience on Healthy City programme and urban health development from 10 countries: Egypt, Jordan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and United Arab Emirates. In addition, representatives from the municipalities of selected cities and regional experts on different priority health related programmes shared their relevant insights and experiences. The meeting was inaugurated by Dr Ala Alwan, Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
Urbanization had been growing rapidly over the past two decades and is expected to continue in the coming years, as more than half of the population in the Region live in urban areas. Urban health challenges are becoming more acute and complex due to unplanned urban growth that puts populations at increasing risk of poor quality of life, poor health coverage, poor infrastructure and sanitation, unsafe drinking water, higher vulnerability to disasters, and hence higher risk of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and injuries. Responding to these challenges, WHO introduced the Healthy City programme more than 20 years ago to address urban determinants of health through participatory governance, a solidarity approach and intersectoral collaboration.
Since 2012, WHO has boosted its technical support to Member States in this area. It established a Regional Healthy City Network (RHCN) website, which is an interactive website enabling mayors and governors to join the network and share their challenges, success stories, and their experiences on urban health development. The Sharjah meeting was organized to explore ways to scale up the Healthy City programme in the Region.
In the inaugural session H.E. Abdulla Almahyan, Member of Executive Council and Chairman of Sharjah Health Authorities represented His Highness, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. Dr Hussain Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary of the Minister of Health, represented H.E. Mr. Abdul Rahman Bin Mohamad Al-Qwais, Minister of Health of the United Arab Emirates.
The Regional Director in his opening remarks expressed his appreciation to His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi for his leadership and full support in making Sharjah as the first officially certified healthy city in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Dr Alwan highlighted that equity and social justice for access to the basic social services including health services have now become the guiding principles for development activities and have been emphasized in the Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health and also by the World Health Assembly in May 2012 (resolution WHA65.8). In addition targets 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals are directly or indirectly linked to health and social wellbeing. The Regional Director confirmed that WHO is committed to assisting its Member States to scale up the Healthy City programme and build capacities of the countries in its leadership and management.
The meeting included a field visit planned by the Sharjah authorities to the Healthy City programme project sites to provide an opportunity to learn from Sharjah's successful model in the field. Draft strategic directions and interventions to scale up the Healthy City programme will be shared, discussed and finalized by the participants.