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Global project to reduce health inequalities in cities around the world

McGill researchers to participate in global network to help develop evidence-based policies
Published: 6 February 2018
A major new research partnership has been launched to explore ways of reducing health inequalities in cities around the world.
Coordinated from London and funded with £10m (C$17.5 million) from Wellcome Trust, with a global network of expert scientists and practitioners -- including three from McGill University -- the partnership comprises two integrated urban health projects. 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.
The researchers will work closely with 10 cities to gather local data and then use computer modelling to test policies, such as safe low-income housing or large public transport systems, to see whether they are likely to be successful.
Over half the world’s population now lives in cities, and by 2050 this is expected to rise to 70%. People who live in cities are on average healthier than those living rurally, 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 fall behind.
Around the world, air pollution contributes to millions of premature deaths. 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.
Impacts of urban growth on the planet
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 cities involved in the new research partnership are: London (UK), Rennes (France), Beijing and Ningbo (China), Nairobi and Kisumu (Kenya), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Vancouver (Canada), and Accra and Tamale (Ghana).
The 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.
The project is part of Wellcome’s Our Planet, Our Health programme which seeks to respond to the health and environmental challenges of our rapidly changing world. The new partnerships join four other major projects announced in 2017, which are addressing further challenges in urban health as well as to food systems.
McGill researchers to assess social equity, environmental health
McGill researchers with expertise in environmental health and social equity will play a major role in the international team. Geography professor Brian E. Robinson, is coordinating Social Science activities on the project and, in conjunction with Christopher Barrington-Leigh, a professor in the Institute of Health and Social Policy (IHSP) and the McGill School of Environment, will lead policy analysis, modelling, and evaluating social inequality across the project sites. Jill Baumgartner, a professor of Epidemiology and the IHSP, co-leads the Health component of the project, and will assess health impacts of various policy decisions and intervention programs across project sites.
Reducing urban inequalities is fundamental to improving health, enhancing resilience, and achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the researchers note.
“Cities are dynamic systems that are constantly changing through individual and public actions”, says Robinson. “Those actions can have big consequences for human health and for the planet, especially for poor and marginalized communities. That’s why this program covers high income countries like Canada and developing countries like Bangladesh and Ghana.”
“The world's problems and solutions seem increasingly concentrated in cities,” says Barrington-Leigh, “We are excited to be training students and postdocs at McGill through this ambitious program that brings together grounded empirical research, stakeholder engagement, and integrative modelling.”
“Particularly exciting is the diversity in perspectives brought by members of the research team that includes professors, policymakers and members of civil society from seven different countries from all over the world,” adds Baumgartner.
Saskia Heijnen from Wellcome’s Our Planet, Our Health team said: “Over half of the world’s population live in urban areas, and as this number continues to rise, our cities will need to adapt to ensure that all people can live healthy lives whilst protecting the planet, both now and in the future. This new partnership will create a world-leading research hub for urban health, addressing many of the unanswered questions that have previously stood in the way of progress.”
Wellcome: Emily Pritchard E: e.pritchard [at] T: 0207 611 8248
McGill: Cynthia Lee E: cynthia.lee [at] T: 514-398-6754
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